The Benefit of Prison Work Release

The Effective, Practical, & Humane Method

The Benefit of Prison Work Release

Society’s confused answer to wrongdoing goes by the name, “Prison.” Prisons form both the rehabilitative and punitive response to law breaking, and between these two responses much confusion forms around the idea of prison rehabilitative effectiveness. Prison policymaking often swings on a pendulum of social emotional response rather than evidence-based research. For example, many people consider prison education programs wasteful spending due to the fact that people outside of prison do not have the means to attend college. This is a gross exaggeration as many prison education programs are designed to provide job skills training or high school diploma equivalence certificates. These generalizations and misinformation extend into the area of prison work release programs and people consider them wasteful and lacking a punitive quality. Work releases programs encompass a large area of prison programs including work within prisons, occupations outside of prisons, and work programs utilizing online virtual environments. In reality, prison work release programs are beneficial because they provide practical application of punishment while lower prison management cost and recidivism, as well as providing a humane punishment.

Practical Application of Punishment

Many people speak contradictorily in terms of prison, claiming it to be a horrifying place while at the same time discussing it in terms of prisoners getting undeserved benefits such as education and healthcare. Yet, no one would volunteer to spend life in prison for the benefits. Prison is a terrible place of hardship, loneliness, and often violence. One of the major issues with prison is the fact that its culture has proven to increase violence and counterproductive behavior to rehabilitation (Haney, Banks , & Zimbardo, 1973). To say that prisons are not harsh enough is an absurd reasoning based on nothing more than generalizations made concerning prison life.

According to General Strain Theory of Prison Violence and Misconduct, prisons recognize the punishment aspect of crime demanded by society while working toward rehabilitation and these goals are not mutually exclusive (Blevins, Listwan, Cullen, & Jonson, 2010). Participation in prison work release programs provides a means for rehabilitating offenders and preparing them for future release rather than just warehousing them, working them without pay, and releasing and hoping they will become fruitful members of society. These programs provide the practical application to punishment that is needed to lower cost of prisons and recidivism.

Lower Cost and Recidivism

As early as the 1960s, the benefit of work release programs was realized as they began reducing recidivism rates and cost of prison management (Grupp, 1963). The statistics are startling in terms of recidivism and cost when contemporary figures are viewed,

· Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2%).
· Within 3 years, 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide.
· The 272,111 offenders discharged in 1994 had accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within 3 years of release (Langan & Levin, 2002).

The highest recidivism rates today are from drug offenders and thieves but according to the National Institute of Justice,

Offenders who worked for private companies while imprisoned obtained employment more quickly, maintained employment longer, and had lower recidivism rates than those who worked in traditional correctional industries or were involved in “other-than-work” (OTW) activities (Moses & Smith, 2002).

The reason work release programs reduce cost is due to their ability to reduce the number of inmates that need supervision at any given time and in the long-term lower recidivism reduces overall prison management cost (Moses & Smith, 2002). Further benefit of work release can be seen in the comprehensiveness of program design. In a 1996 study of more than twenty years of work release programs, researchers found that the more comprehensive the program (the more aspects of life the program included such as billing paying, transportation, and other daily activities) the higher the program’s efficacy (Shand, 1996). Despite these proven benefits the reason recidivism remains high is due to the cost of starting programs and unpopular politics of spending money on what is seen as “prison benefits” which is completely false since all money earned in prison is managed by prison officials and distributed to child support, prisoner family needs, and other necessary costs (Moses & Smith, 2002).

Humane Punishment

The US prides itself on being a humane culture yet many citizens would lock people in prison without a second thought for prisoner welfare. The belief that people should be given a second chance is a fundamental part of US culture, otherwise prison sentences would be for life in most instances. Learning from one’s mistakes, acknowledging mistakes, and taking responsibility for the consequences of mistakes is no more than what is asked of children, yet prisoners are often disregarded in this manner even in cases of non-violent offenders.

Worse than being disregarded prisoners are often considered in the context of free labor with many people supporting chain gangs and no pay for prisoners, despite decades of research showing that these methods do not work (Grupp, 1963). Worse than not working, these programs often raised recidivism rates and costs to manage prisons (Grupp, 1963). This erroneous thinking concerning prisons has been responsible for the waffling effect of prison spending which, depending upon politics, can have deleterious impact on prison budgets (Moses & Smith, 2002).

Prison work release programs provide the means for learning from mistakes. Sadly, many people in the US are so misinformed that they believe that murders and other high-risk persons are eligible for work release, but this is not true. In the past there have been instances of poor judgement but today prison work release is more effective as prisoners are profiled more accurately. As a society, we need to decide whether we wish to continue a direction of short-term cost reduction or to shift into a long-term humane practice of prison treatment that ultimately solves the problem.


While work release programs are not for all prisoners, most prisoners can benefit from these initiatives as they will return to society. Rationally, prisoners trained or already possessing jobs tremendously increase the chance of successful integration in society. The more perspective of prison work release would be to ask which programs are most effective and how do we make them more cost effective to implement? More research will be needed.


Blevins, K., Listwan, S. J., Cullen, F. T., & Jonson, C. L. (2010). General Strain Theory of Prison Violence and Misconduct: An Integrated Model of Inmate Behavior. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 26(2), 148–166.

Grupp, S. E. (1963). Work Release in the United States. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, 54(3), 267–272.

Haney, C., Banks , C., & Zimbardo, P. (1973, September). A Study of Prisoners and Guards in a Simulated Prison. Naval Research Reviews, 1–17.

Langan, P. A., & Levin, D. J. (2002). Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994. Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Statistics:

Moses, M. C., & Smith, C. J. (2002, June 1). Factories Behind Fences: Do Prison Real Work Programs Work? Retrieved from National Institure of Justice:

Shand, R. (1996). Pre-Release/Transition: Inmate Programs and Support Upon Entry, During Incarceration, and After Release. Journal of Correctional Education, 47(1), 20–40.


Vincent Triola. Mon, May 24, 2021. The Benefit of Prison Work Release Retrieved from