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Washington State Institute for Public Policy
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Work release

Adult Criminal Justice
Benefit-cost methods last updated December 2023.  Literature review updated July 2016.
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Work release programs are a form of partial confinement enabling participants to serve all or a portion of their prison or jail sentence in a residential facility while employed in the community. While each program is unique, most work release programs allow residents to leave the residential community during the work day to seek or attend employment and/or educational opportunities. Work release is a pre-release program, meaning it is used as an alternative to traditional incarceration for all or some of an individual’s sentence length. Work release typically lasts for about six months.
For an overview of WSIPP's Benefit-Cost Model, please see this guide. The estimates shown are present value, life cycle benefits and costs. All dollars are expressed in the base year chosen for this analysis (2022). The chance the benefits exceed the costs are derived from a Monte Carlo risk analysis. The details on this, as well as the economic discount rates and other relevant parameters are described in our Technical Documentation.
Benefit-Cost Summary Statistics Per Participant
Benefits to:
Taxpayers $1,256 Benefits minus costs $5,614
Participants $0 Benefit to cost ratio n/a
Others $2,840 Chance the program will produce
Indirect $924 benefits greater than the costs 99%
Total benefits $5,020
Net program cost $593
Benefits minus cost $5,614

^^WSIPP does not include this outcome when conducting benefit-cost analysis for this program.

Meta-analysis is a statistical method to combine the results from separate studies on a program, policy, or topic in order to estimate its effect on an outcome. WSIPP systematically evaluates all credible evaluations we can locate on each topic. The outcomes measured are the types of program impacts that were measured in the research literature (for example, crime or educational attainment). Treatment N represents the total number of individuals or units in the treatment group across the included studies.

An effect size (ES) is a standard metric that summarizes the degree to which a program or policy affects a measured outcome. If the effect size is positive, the outcome increases. If the effect size is negative, the outcome decreases. See Estimating Program Effects Using Effect Sizes for additional information.

Adjusted effect sizes are used to calculate the benefits from our benefit cost model. WSIPP may adjust effect sizes based on methodological characteristics of the study. For example, we may adjust effect sizes when a study has a weak research design or when the program developer is involved in the research. The magnitude of these adjustments varies depending on the topic area.

WSIPP may also adjust the second ES measurement. Research shows the magnitude of some effect sizes decrease over time. For those effect sizes, we estimate outcome-based adjustments which we apply between the first time ES is estimated and the second time ES is estimated. We also report the unadjusted effect size to show the effect sizes before any adjustments have been made. More details about these adjustments can be found in our Technical Documentation.

Meta-Analysis of Program Effects
Outcomes measured Treatment age No. of effect sizes Treatment N Adjusted effect sizes(ES) and standard errors(SE) used in the benefit - cost analysis Unadjusted effect size (random effects model)
First time ES is estimated Second time ES is estimated
ES SE Age ES SE Age ES p-value
34 9 24013 -0.036 0.018 36 -0.036 0.018 46 -0.047 0.061
34 2 3570 0.342 0.030 36 n/a n/a n/a 0.342 0.001
34 2 3971 0.708 0.561 34 n/a n/a n/a 0.708 0.207
1In addition to the outcomes measured in the meta-analysis table, WSIPP measures benefits and costs estimated from other outcomes associated with those reported in the evaluation literature. For example, empirical research demonstrates that high school graduation leads to reduced crime. These associated measures provide a more complete picture of the detailed costs and benefits of the program.

2“Others” includes benefits to people other than taxpayers and participants. Depending on the program, it could include reductions in crime victimization, the economic benefits from a more educated workforce, and the benefits from employer-paid health insurance.

3“Indirect benefits” includes estimates of the net changes in the value of a statistical life and net changes in the deadweight costs of taxation.
Detailed Monetary Benefit Estimates Per Participant
Affected outcome: Resulting benefits:1 Benefits accrue to:
Taxpayers Participants Others2 Indirect3 Total
Crime Criminal justice system $1,256 $0 $2,840 $628 $4,723
Program cost Adjustment for deadweight cost of program $0 $0 $0 $297 $297
Totals $1,256 $0 $2,840 $924 $5,020
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Detailed Annual Cost Estimates Per Participant
Annual cost Year dollars Summary
Program costs $49,489 2016 Present value of net program costs (in 2022 dollars) $593
Comparison costs $49,992 2016 Cost range (+ or -) 10%
Per-participant cost estimate provided by the Washington State Department of Corrections.
The figures shown are estimates of the costs to implement programs in Washington. The comparison group costs reflect either no treatment or treatment as usual, depending on how effect sizes were calculated in the meta-analysis. The cost range reported above reflects potential variation or uncertainty in the cost estimate; more detail can be found in our Technical Documentation.
Benefits Minus Costs
Benefits by Perspective
Taxpayer Benefits by Source of Value
Benefits Minus Costs Over Time (Cumulative Discounted Dollars)
The graph above illustrates the estimated cumulative net benefits per-participant for the first fifty years beyond the initial investment in the program. We present these cash flows in discounted dollars. If the dollars are negative (bars below $0 line), the cumulative benefits do not outweigh the cost of the program up to that point in time. The program breaks even when the dollars reach $0. At this point, the total benefits to participants, taxpayers, and others, are equal to the cost of the program. If the dollars are above $0, the benefits of the program exceed the initial investment.

Citations Used in the Meta-Analysis

Berk, J. (2008). Does work release work? Unpublished manuscript, Brown University, Providence, RI. Retrieved June 28, 2011 from

Drake, E. (2007). Does participation in Washington's work release facilities reduce recidivism? (Document No. 07-11-1201). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

Duwe, G. (2014). An outcome evaluation of a prison work release program: Estimating its effects on recidivism, employment and cost avoidance. Minnesota Department of Corrections. St. Paul, MN.

Jeffrey, R., & Woolpert, S. (1974). Work furlough as an alternative to incarceration. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 65(3), 405-415.

LeClair, D., & Guarino-Ghezzi, S. (1991). Does incapacitation guarantee public safety? Lessons from the Massachusetts furlough and prerelease programs. Justice Quarterly, 8(1), 9-36.

Routh, D., & Hamilton, Z. (2015). Work release as a transition: Positioning success via the halfway house. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 54(4), 239-255.

Turner, S., & Petersilia, J. (1996). Work release in Washington: Effects on recidivism and corrections costs. Prison Journal, 76(2), 138-164.

Waldo, G.P., & Chiricos, T.G. (1977). Work release and recidivism: An empirical evaluation of a social policy. Evaluation Quarterly, 1(1), 87-108.