This paper presents the findings from two studies of Washington State's prison work release program.
The studies were conducted between 1991 and 1994. The first study analyzed a cohort of male inmates released from Washington prisons in 1990 (N = 2,452); its aim was to describe how work release operates and how successfully inmates perform in the program. The second study compared the recidivism of 218 offenders, approximately half of whom participated in work release and half of whom completed their sentences in prison. Generally, the program achieved its primary goal of preparing inmates for final release and facilitating their adjustment to the community. The program does not cost the State any more than if inmates remain in prison, and the public safety risks are nearly nonexistent, because program operators are quickly returning to prison any offender who violates program conditions. Of the almost 1,100 work releasees tracked as part of this evaluation, less than 5 percent committed a new crime while on work release, and 99 percent of those crimes were less serious property offenses, such as forgery and petty theft. Moreover, offenders who participated in work release were somewhat less likely to be rearrested, but the results were not statistically significant. The work release program, however, did not reduce offender recidivism rates or corrections costs. The authors conclude that based on realistic expectations, the Washington work release program is effective. 5 tables, 6 notes, and 14 references