Work release, and why it works

Let’s say Defendant Donny pleads to DUI in King County District Court and gets a sentence of six months. We’ve already talked about how Donny will likely get good time off, so the six month sentence is actually only four months. The next question is whether Donny can serve those six months as work release? In King County, the prosecutors and judges almost always let a defendant screen for work release on misdemeanor offenses. Defendants who qualify will serve their sentence in the work release portion of the jail, and be allowed to leave the jail to attend work and chemical dependency treatment. The defendant will have to pay for the cost of work release. The specific costs vary depending on the jail but it is typically a sliding scale fee based on the defendant’s income. To give you a ball park idea of the costs, Snohomish County informs me that they charge twice a defendant’s hourly wage per day. So if Donny makes $20 an hour, his work release cost is $40 a day (twice his hourly wage), plus set up costs and other various fees. In the past, Donny could qualify for work release even if he didn’t have a job, because the King County work release facility would let him out of jail every day to look for work. However, based on budget cuts, I have been told that a person actually needs a job before being approved for work release. The work release facility will verify whether the person actually has a job. So those who are self-employed often run into problems. If a defendant is court ordered to do treatment, the defendant can continue with treatment while in the work release program. The work release facility imposes random urine screenings to ensure a defendant is clean and sober when entering the facility. Every work release facility has a minimum sentence length before a defendant can screen for work release. In most cases, a defendant’s sentence must be ten days or more in length (so if the sentence is nine days, the defendant will have to serve straight time. If the sentence is ten days, the defendant can screen for work release).

Bottom line, work release is always more desirable than a straight jail sentence. Unfortunately, not all jurisdictions have a work release facility available. The more progressive jurisdictions, such as King and Snohomish County, have work release programs because they believe an inmate leaving their facility employed is an excellent way to reduce recidivism.