As of January this year, Minnesota’s prison population was just over 7,000 according to figures from the Department of Corrections. Full-time incarceration is a costly crime management tool for the taxpayer, so authorities try to keep offenders out of cells where workable alternatives are available.
One such alternative is work release. Per the same set of statistics mentioned above, there were 4,521 supervised releases of prisoners in the state last year, and some of these were involved in work release programs.
So, exactly what is a work release program?
How Do Work Release Programs Work in Minnesota?
Work release allows those with criminal convictions to leave jail or prison before the end of their custodial sentence on the condition that they work in an approved role while out of incarceration. Work release programs of various types exist across the United States.
The Minnesota DOC’s Work Release Program has been in operation since 1967. It allows “carefully-screened incarcerated persons” to leave correctional facilities to take up employment. This can either be a paid role or a voluntary position in an approved community program. The program also connects offenders with community resources that assist them in transitioning back to normal life. It is intended that prisoners find “stable residency” through the program, not just work.
State law provides that prisoners only become eligible for work release after at least half of the time they were sentenced to serve has elapsed.
Who Can Get Involved in Work Release?
As noted above, candidates for Minnesota’s work release program must undergo careful screening prior to approval. There are a number of factors Department of Corrections officials will take into account when deciding whether to approve an application.
If an incarcerated person appears likely to re-offend if allowed on a work release program, their application will be unlikely to succeed. Those managing the case will make an assessment in this regard on the basis of the prisoner’s behavior while incarcerated, the severity of their criminal history, and any issues they may have with substance abuse.
The Minnesota Screening Tool Assessing Recidivism Risk (MnSTARR) is also a part of this process. This is an assessment that provides a statistical calculation of how likely a given individual is to re-offend on the basis of a range of factors.
Authorities will also look out for a “demonstrated need for transition services” on the part of the prisoner. A prisoner’s positive engagement with any of the various programs on offer in correctional facilities is viewed as favorable in a work release application.
If a work release program participant is convicted of a misdemeanor or felony while out of incarceration, their involvement in the program is immediately terminated.
The Benefits of Work Release
The most obvious advantage of work release is the return of the prisoner’s personal freedom (at least from the viewpoint of the prisoner). However, there are broader benefits too, for society at large as well as the individuals involved.
For instance, work release programs attempt to manage the issue of substance abuse by those emerging from the prison system. Abstinence from “mood-altering substances” is a condition of participation in work release, and those on release may be required to give physical samples at any time to prove they have not been using drugs. Those with known histories of substance abuse must participate in a program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, that will address their risk of relapsing.
Work release also has benefits in terms of public finances. Rather than allowing a convicted person to remain entirely dependent on government money in prison, work release allows them to contribute positively to society. Program participants must pay a proportion of any income they make to help cover housing costs.
If program participants struggle to find work after leaving incarceration, a job-seeking service is made available to them.
Full-time incarceration has a lot of drawbacks, especially for prisoners. Work release programs provide a useful path back to normal life for those emerging from behind bars, and statistics show that it also lessens the likelihood of repeat offenses.
If you’d like to find out more about work release in Minnesota, or you need professional help in dealing with a criminal matter, contact us today.