The goal of the Florida Work Release program is to improve the recidivism outcomes of individuals reentering society from prison. The program provides a structured reentry environment to allow incarcerated persons nearing the end of their sentences to work regular jobs in the community. This program aims to help individuals arrive at their release dates with jobs and some savings.
In Florida, prison officials evaluate male individuals’ readiness for work release when they have 10 months remaining on their custodial sentences. Those with a history of escape, prior work release termination, a sex offense, four or more prior incarcerations, or a violent detainer are not eligible to participate.
Approved individuals may apply to be transferred to two preferred work release centers. Unlike many prisons in Florida, which are located upstate, work release centers are spread throughout the state, and people interested in participating generally apply to a center in their county of residence.
Once a bed becomes available at a person’s requested work release center, the inmate is transferred to the center and given an orientation. The participant must then be responsible for finding a job within the Florida Work Release system, which can take between 2 to 4 weeks, on average. Because of the time needed to transfer to a new facility, participate in the orientation, and search for a job, individuals with less than 60 days on their custodial sentences are not eligible for the program.
Work release centers provide a secure environment in which to house participants during scheduled non-work hours. Even though they work unsupervised in the community, participants must maintain scheduled work hours (i.e., tardiness or leaving work early is not tolerated). Failure to return to the work release center at the scheduled time is treated seriously, classified as an escape, and can result in a return to prison. Work release center staff visit the participants in their workplace twice a week.
Most of the participants earn little more than minimum wage. In addition, wages are garnished in several ways, including 45 percent of after-tax pay to cover room and board, 10 percent of net pay for restitution or court-ordered payments, and 10 percent for family assistance or child support. Participants are also required to save 10 percent of their net pay. While they are allowed $65 per week to pay for their incidentals, they must deposit their remaining earnings into their savings accounts. (Please note that these rates reflect those in the Berk 2008 study.)
The program allows participants to develop specific work-related skills and increase their social capital. The program also allows for individuals who may only have had tenuous links and sparse experiences in the legitimate labor market to hold down a job, with the support of a highly structured environment.
Work release programs rely on an economic model of crime, which posits that as individuals’ prospects for gainful employment in the legal labor market improve, their criminal behavior will be reduced. When better able to earn legitimate income, a person’s motivation to commit criminal activity for personal gain is lowered, the penalty for being caught committing a criminal act is much higher, and the individual thus has “more to lose.” This would then impact the individual’s cost-benefit balance when deciding about committing future criminal acts (Berk 2008).
The program also provides an acculturation to life and peers with steady jobs in a structured environment, as well as providing participants with somewhat of a safety net upon their release from custody, which can be a very fraught period (Berk 2008).
Berk (2008) found lower reconviction rates for the treatment group, compared with the control group. This difference was statistically significant. The analysis suggested a 13-percent reduction in recidivism at 3 years post-release.
The program increased employment rates post-release for the treatment group, compared with the control group, particularly in the first year. Although the effect on employment faded after the first year, it remained statistically significant.
The Florida Work Release program statistically significantly increased participants’ quarterly earnings post-release, compared with the control group.
Berk (2008) employed a quasi-experimental design to evaluate the effectiveness of the Florida Work Release program in terms of recidivism and employment outcomes. Using data from the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida Unemployment Insurance System, the sample was drawn from a group of men who entered prison after 1993 and were released before the end of 1999. Because work release participants were required to be on minimum custody status, the comparison group was limited mainly to persons who were also on minimum custody status. These eligibility requirements resulted in a treatment group of 2,186 who were transferred to work release centers and a comparison group of 7,035 who were released as usual from their custodial sentences, which in Florida consisted of a bus ticket home and $100.
The treatment group was 50 percent African American, 46 percent white, and 4 percent Hispanic. The average age was 31. Of this group, 39 percent were incarcerated for property offenses, 34 percent for drug-related offenses, 18 percent for violent offenses, and 6 percent for weapons; the average length of incarceration was 17.5 months. At the time of arrest, 72.8 percent of the treatment group reported being employed. The comparison group was 54 percent African American, 41 percent white, and 4 percent Hispanic. The average age was also 31. Of this group, 39 percent were incarcerated for property offenses, 35 percent for drug-related offenses, 17 percent for violent offenses, and 5 percent for weapons; the average length of incarceration was 12 months. At the time of arrest, 64 percent of the control group reported being employed. Only males were included in both treatment and control groups. The study does not provide information on group differences at baseline; however, the researcher used propensity scores in their analysis.
Outcomes were tracked over a 1- to 3-year post-release period. Employment outcomes were measured by post-release earnings as well as employment status; recidivism was operationalized as reconviction resulting in prison, probation, or revocation. Statistical analyses controlled for several variables, including demographic characteristics, criminal justice-related issues, and mental- and physical-health grades. Analyses involved the use of ordinary least squares (OLS) regression, difference-in-differences, propensity score methods, and linear probability models.
There is no cost information available for this program.
Berk (2008) found that, among work release participants, only individuals who committed income-generating crimes experienced a reduction in recidivism; no difference was found for those who committed non-income-generating crimes such as robbery or selling drugs (however, both groups experienced beneficial employment outcomes).
The study also found that Florida Work Release had a positive impact on both white and minority participants. Additionally, the study found that work release had stronger effects for participants older than 26, as consistent with other prior research (Uggen 2000). Similarly, participants who had graduated high school experienced a greater impact than those who had not received their high school diploma. Finally, participants with longer custodial sentences appeared to benefit more from the Florida Work Release program, particularly in the first year post-release.
Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:Study 1Berk, Jillian. 2008. Does Work Release Work? Providence, R.I.: Brown University.
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:
Johnson, Candace Marie. 1984. The Effects of Prison Labor Programs on Post-Release Employment and Recidivism
. Doctoral dissertation. Tallahassee, Fla.: Florida State University. (This study was reviewed but did not meet Crime Solutions' criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)
Uggen, Christopher. 2000. “Work as a Turning Point in the Life Course of Criminals: A Duration Model of Age, Employment, and Recidivism.” American Sociological Review
Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:Noncustodial Employment Programs for Ex-Offenders
This practice involves job training and career development for offenders with a recent criminal record in order to increase employment and reduce recidivism. These programs take place outside of the traditional custodial correctional setting, after offenders are released. The practice is rated No Effects in reducing criminal behavior for participants in noncustodial employment training programs compared with those who did not participate.Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Adult Reentry Programs
| ||Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types|
This practice involves correctional programs that focus on the transition of individuals from prison into the community. Reentry programs involve treatment or services that have been initiated while the individual is in custody and a follow-up component after the individual is released. The practice is rated Promising for reducing recidivism.Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
| ||Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types|