Work Release and Work Furlough Programs in California
To promote inmate rehabilitation and reduce overcrowding in California correctional facilities, the State of California has implemented work furlough and work release as alternative sentencing options for eligible convicted individuals, allowing them to serve their sentences while working and earning an income.
In these programs, inmates can check out of the correctional facility to go to work. Each program serves a different purpose with different qualifications and conditions for each. The programs often differ county by county, as well.
Work release is a program allowing certain inmates serving time in jail to leave the jail facility during the day to attend regular work and return immediately after work for confinement purposes.
Work furlough programs are typically reserved for inmates that are within 120 days of their scheduled release date from jail, employed for at least 35 hours per week, and not excluded under Penal Code 6263 PC, which excludes inmates who were convicted of sex crimes, drug use or sales, arson, or more than one violent crime conviction.
Qualified inmates can ask the court to be transferred into a work furlough program. The judge assigned to their case can either grant or deny their request. The work furlough participants do not have to pay for the program.
Work furlough programs are offered in Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County, San Diego County, and others. Some might require that the participant submit to an electronic monitoring program.
Suppose an inmate violates a work furlough condition. In that case, they will typically have to return to the correctional facility to serve the remainder of their sentence.
What Are the General Eligibility Requirements?
While specific eligibility requirements differ between these two types of programs, both work furlough and work release are primarily designed for non-serious and non-violent offenders who have demonstrated good behavior and meet other eligibility criteria.
Both work release and work furlough are commonly used in DUI convictions, and both programs may also allow inmates to leave the facility to attend school, drug or alcohol treatment programs, or even participate in religious services.
Under Penal Code 6260 PC, the primary reasons for work furlough programs are to help control the issue of overcrowding in California correctional institutions, provide other types of housing for state inmates, and provide inmate reentry programs to help them reintegrate into society.
Work Furlough vs. Work Release: What's the Difference?
While both work furlough and work release allow inmates to work outside the correctional facility, there are significant differences between the two programs:
- Eligibility: work furlough is designed for inmates nearing the end of their sentence, while work release is primarily for low-risk, non-violent offenders who have displayed good behavior and met specific other criteria.
- Type of work: work furlough participants can go to work at most jobs, including a job they may have held before conviction. Work release participants generally work at county-approved jobs involving manual labor supporting the community, such as picking up trash on the highway, cleaning graffiti, or other community services.
- Housing: Inmates on work furlough return to a designated state-monitored facility each night after work, while work release participants may reside in approved transitional housing or their own homes.
How Does Work Furlough Work?
To participate in a work furlough program, an eligible inmate will petition the court to be transferred into the program.
If approved, the inmate will be moved from jail to a state-monitored work furlough residential facility, where they will check out each day to go to work or school and check back in when finished.
To qualify for a work furlough program, an inmate must typically meet the following criteria:
- Be within 120 days of the end of their sentence.
- Have a history of good behavior while incarcerated, including no escape attempts.
- Have a verified job offer or be enrolled in an educational or vocational program, at least 35 hours per week.
- Not pose a risk to public safety.
- Not be otherwise disqualified according to the criteria outlined in Penal Code 6263 PC, such as convicted of arson, sex crimes, violent crimes, history of drug use, sales, addiction, etc.
Once approved for the program, participants must adhere to strict conditions, including:
- Following established rules and regulations set by the overseeing authority.
- Being monitored by electronic tracking devices or regular check-ins.
- Attending mandatory counseling, educational, or vocational programs as required.
- Complying with curfew and travel restrictions. Many participants must use public transportation to and from work.
- Submitting to random drug and alcohol testing.
What Are the Consequences of Violating Program Terms?
Violating the terms of either the work furlough or work release programs can result in significant consequences, including:
- Removal from the program and return to full-time incarceration.
- Possible additional criminal charges, if applicable, resulting in additional jail time.
- Loss of eligibility for future alternative sentencing programs.
How Does Work Release Work?
Qualifying for work release is similar to work furlough, such as low-risk, non-violent offenses, but work release serves as part of the jail sentence, and the inmate gets credit for time served during work hours.
The inmate will work each day at a county-approved job involving manual labor benefitting the community. Examples include the following:
- Painting curbs and parks.
- Cleaning up graffiti or trash on public roads or highways.
- Helping maintain county buildings.
- Doing physical tasks for the elderly.
Inmates in work release programs may also typically go home to their families at night instead of checking into a correctional facility, with regular check-ins at the correctional facility as required by the court.
Inmates may also receive work release credit for attending approved vocational training programs, drug treatment/counseling, etc.
It's a type of alternative sentencing to help inmates ease into post-release life and increase job opportunities. Once in a program, they can check out of the facility in the morning to go to work.
Once their workday has been completed after 8-10 hours, they must check back into the program. Most inmates use public transportation (bus) to and from their jobs, which can be part-time or full-time.
Some inmates in the work furlough program might even be allowed to attend church, school, and substance abuse or alcohol treatment.
If you are eligible for a work furlough program, contact us for a case evaluation. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.