The state Department of Corrections is tightening regulations at its contracted work-release facilities after two high-profile incidents...

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The state Department of Corrections is tightening regulations at its contracted work-release facilities after two high-profile incidents raised questions over how closely inmates are monitored.

The six private companies that run Department of Corrections (DOC) work-release sites will be audited more frequently, have better employee training and stronger oversight, said Anne Fiala, assistant deputy secretary in DOC’s Community Corrections Division.

The change will be written into the contracts DOC has signed with the contractors and any deficiencies noted in the audits will be negotiated between the two parties. Fiala said any company that fails to comply with the changes could see its contract with the state terminated.

Work release is offered to low-risk offenders who spend the last portion of their sentence under partial confinement living in residential settings. The DOC operates 15 work-release facilities in the state, with private contractors running 13 of those.

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“We really feel that having individuals coming from the prison into work release instead of going from prison straight to the community is a much better way to have them get acclimated,” Fiala said.

Fiala said crimes committed by offenders while in work-release facilities are part of the reason for the changes.

In 2005, a man slipped through security at a federal prison work-release program in Seattle and was involved in a melee that ended with Seattle Seahawks safety Ken Hamlin being hospitalized with severe head injuries. That same escapee, Terrell Milam, was found shot to death hours later.

The work-release program was run by Pioneer Human Services, a nonprofit that also operates six DOC work-release facilities.

In January, a DOC raid at Reynolds Work Release in Seattle netted cocaine, as well as $3,600 cash and cellphones — both of which are prohibited. Some employees resigned because of admitted misconduct, said Larry Fehr, senior vice president for corrections and re-entry services for Pioneer Human Services. Reynolds is also run by Pioneer.

State Corrections Secretary Harold Clarke wants prisons and work releases to meet accreditation standards set by the American Correctional Association (ACA). According to its Web site, the association is a national organization that promotes diversity and professionalism in corrections. Clarke is the president-elect of the ACA.

One of the changes instituted by DOC is that work- release employees will be educated in the Prison Rape Elimination Act, Fiala said. In 2003, Congress enacted PREA in response to a 2001 Human Rights Watch study focusing on widespread sexual abuse in U.S. prisons. The law required each state to have its prisons standardize the process for detecting and reducing rapes.

Fehr said the changes won’t drastically impact the nonprofit’s facilities. Pioneer has been making its own improvements in the wake of problems at their work-release facilities, he said.

“We totally support the department in regard to helping to ensure the highest possible standards to operating work-release facilities in the state,” Fehr said. “In fact, all six facilities have been accredited by the ACA, which has happened in the last year.”

Currently, there are nearly 700 offenders on work release, Fiala said. Inmates on work release are allowed to serve the last six months of their prison term in a supervised halfway house where they can get a job as well as seek drug, mental-health or other treatment, Fiala said.

To stay at a work release, offenders pay $13.50 a day for their room and board, plus any restitution or legal fees they’ve been assessed, as well as a mandatory savings plan.

Corrections officials are hoping to expand the work-release program by an additional 370 beds over the next decade.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or

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