New Law Expands Prison Work Release Programs


Legislation passed this year will expand opportunities for offenders to work while incarcerated.  

During the 2024 legislative session, lawmakers passed several bills that will meaningfully impact the state’s prison system. Among them is Senate Bill 2445, which expands opportunities for individuals to work outside of prison while they are still incarcerated.  

Mississippi currently has a pilot work release program that is limited to 25 participants at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. When Senate Bill 2445 becomes law later this year, the “pilot” designation will be removed, and the program will be expanded to include all state-run facilities. Additionally, around 20 regional correctional facilities will have the opportunity to implement similar programs. Each of the programs operated by the state or by a regional facility will be limited to no more than 25 participants.   

To qualify for the program, inmates must meet certain criteria. For instance, they must have no more than 2 years remaining on their sentence and are only eligible if they have no disciplinary violations in the last 12 months. They must also be non-violent offenders. Many of the past and current participants were imprisoned for drug crimes.  

Work release allows inmates to engage in meaningful work beyond the prison walls as they prepare to return to society. Often, they are able to keep these jobs once they get out of prison. Some of the individuals participating in the existing program work for a private employer, while most work for municipal governments,  and one even found work at the Mississippi State Hospital.  

The average wage for program participants is just over $13 per hour. Of that, 15% goes towards administration of the program; 25% goes towards any child support, fines, fees, and court costs; 50% goes into a savings account that’s available to the individual upon release; and the remaining 10% can be used at the prison commissary and to purchase other incidental expenses. The savings account allows the person to pay a deposit on housing, buy an old car that can get them to work, and otherwise put them in a position where committing further crime is not seen as their only option.  

In addition to the state-run work release program, there is also a work release program operated at the county level. Currently, only Harrison, Lee, and Rankin Counties are authorized to run a work release program, and only Rankin County has an operational program, but SB2445 adds Hinds County. While the details of county work release are slightly different than the state work release program, the purpose and benefits are similar.  

Work release programs like these allow individuals who are nearing the end of their sentences the opportunity to engage in meaningful work in the community and prepare them to successfully re-enter society. These programs: 

  • Encourage good behavior: Individuals are only eligible to participate if they have no disciplinary convictions in the last 12 months.  
  • Prepare individuals for success: Program participants usually leave the program having paid off some of their fines, fees, and restitution, with some savings to get their lives restarted, and with a job once they get out.  
  • Improve public safety: Work release reduces the likelihood that a person will commit another crime once they are released by addressing one of the main predictors of recidivism – not having a job.   
  • Promote responsible government spending: These programs are inexpensive to operate and should responsibly reduce state spending by preventing future crime.  

Work release programs are truly a win-win. They are good for both the individual and the state, and we are encouraged by this positive step towards making our state safer and our prison system more redemptive. Lawmakers should be proud of their work on this issue, and we look forward to seeing the results of their efforts.