Washington hopes to double work-release program

OLYMPIA – Washington’s prison system plans to double the state’s work-release program over the next decade to more than 1,200 convicts, and will attempt to spread the expansion equitably around the state, officials said Monday.

The first big $17 million expansion will provide about 120 new slots, with the location and the size of the new facilities to be determined. Potential sites will be announced in a few weeks. Over time, the department wants to open 10 new facilities.

The Department of Corrections operates 15 work-release facilities in 10 counties, with waiting lists for the 678 beds. The local programs, most run by private contractors under the watch of community corrections officers, allows offenders to spend the final six months of their prison term in community-based, secure halfway houses.

Inmates work during the day and return to the work-release facility at night. Prisoners also may take part in re-entry programs, such as drug and alcohol treatment and mental health counseling.

A “fair share” provision of the new prison bill says the state can’t crowd all of the new facilities into a handful of counties. Pierce and Spokane counties were frequently mentioned in legislative debate as having more than their share of prison facilities.

Work release is one tool the state plans to use as part of a new program mandated by the Legislature to deal with inmates’ problems, such as addiction and lack of job skills, that contribute to a continuing cycle of crime.

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