DOC, advisory committee will aim to create equally distributed work release facilities

The Department of Corrections is forming a statewide advisory committee to help the agency equitably distribute future work release facilities in Washington.

DOC plans to increase the number of work release facilities over the next 10 years to double its current capacity of more than 600 beds. The increase will provide additional options for offenders returning to the community after serving prison sentences. DOC currently operates 15 work release facilities.

“We want this to be an open, transparent process to locate new facilities that will have the support of the communities in which they operate,” said DOC Secretary Harold Clarke.

Work release is a form of partial confinement in which low-risk offenders are permitted to spend the final six months of their confinement in community-based residential facilities. During this time, offenders are expected to secure employment and continue participating in programs that will assist their successful return to society.

Lack of employment is a major contributor to crime, and about half of all offenders entering the prison system were unemployed at the time they committed their crimes. DOC is increasing its efforts to equip more offenders with job skills, and work release provides an opportunity to do that.

“These are offenders who will return to communities across the state in any case, and work release is one more tool to help ensure that their transition is successful,” Clarke said. He added that only 3 percent of offenders in state prisons will never be released.

A law passed during the 2007 legislative session requires substantial efforts by DOC to equitably distribute new work releases and other community-based correctional facilities. An existing law requires DOC to establish an advisory committee of local officials, citizens and DOC staff to make siting recommendations to the Secretary.

By July 1, DOC is required to provide the Office of Financial Management with a list of counties and rural multi-county geographic areas in which work release and similar facilities are anticipated during the next three fiscal years.

The new site-selection advisory committee will consist of representatives of advocacy groups, law enforcement, local governments and state agencies. In addition to helping the Department distribute work release facilities equitably throughout the state, the advisory committee will look at such issues as access to jobs, public transportation and availability of treatment programs and other types of services for offenders.

The groups being asked to participate include: Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims; Washington Coalition of Crime Victim Advocates; Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys; Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and Superior Court Judges’ Association; the Association of Washington Cities and Association of Washington Counties. The state Community, Trade and Economic Development and Corrections departments also will be represented.

Work release is one component of DOC’s overall Re-entry Initiative, an effort to make the public safer by reducing recidivism, and to limit the cost of new prison space to house repeat offenders.

DOC’s existing work release facilities are located in Yakima, King, Spokane, Whatcom, Thurston, Cowlitz, Pierce, Kitsap, Clark and Benton counties.

The time, date and location of the advisory committee’s meetings will be posted on DOC’s Web site — — when they are determined.