Doing time in Port Orchard

Part two in a two-part series. Today’s story looks at the systems by which Peninsula Work Release manages offenders and trains them to adjust to the realities of post-convict life.

By all accounts, Peninsula Work Release, located in the South Kitsap Industrial Park in Port Orchard, takes an unusual approach to ensuring ex-cons stay out of jail in the future.

Community corrections supervisor Frank Ohly called the system the “illusion of freedom” — doors remain unlocked but residents still have to toe a very narrow line.

A system of rules and regulations is used to keep residents under a combination of facility-imposed supervision and mandatory self-control. For instance, residents have the run of the facility, but an 11 p.m. curfew is strictly enforced — only residents with night shifts are allowed in or out after that.

Window screens have alarms on them and head counts are done four times a day, ensuring staff knows where residents are at all times. However, no staff member will even stand in front of the door if a resident attempts to leave.

“This is not a secure facility,” Ohly emphasized. “You can walk away and we’re not going to chase after you.”

For the most part, residents appreciate the chance to leave prison early.

Ohly said in the last two and a half years, Peninsula has had only one “escape.” One man, apparently distraught over his girlfriend dumping him, cut open the screen to his room and left. His roommate followed, although he returned a few hours later.

Both were shipped back to prison, and the man who cut the screen was charged with a felony count of escaping.

But that was an unusual case, Ohly said. Technically, any one of the facility’s offenders could walk out the door at any time.

The incentive to stay, Ohly said, is avoiding more prison time — a top priority for many of the residents — and getting a head start on release by getting a job and saving some money. This is another area where the illusion of freedom gives residents a taste of the outside world while preventing unwanted stumbles.

Each resident has an individual account via the Washington Department of Corrections and Bank of America. Paychecks are deposited directly into the accounts; room and board, taxes and any outstanding court costs are taken out automatically. The remainder goes to the offenders in weekly checks, which they have to request.

Ohly admitted many residents use the money for cigarettes — drugs and alcohol are forbidden — but many more save as much as they can to ease the transition to mainstream life.

Anthony Moore, a resident with a significant criminal past, said he likes the banking system, although he wishes the facility offered classes on money management as well.

“I’m not real good at saving money,” he said.

The primary concern among staff is offenders falling back into their old habits.

Drug use lapses are a constant threat, Ohly said, which is why the facility regularly tests residents for evidence of narcotics use. Major violations earn residents a one-way ticket back to prison, but minor infractions are usually handled on case-by-case basis.

“Some people have done so well at their jobs you need to give them a second chance,” said director Cindy Robinson. “And that’s what we’re all about here.”

To help reduce the risk of re-offences, staff require residents to have a sponsor with them at all times while they’re outside. Each sponsor is rigorously screened — former drinking buddies need not apply.

The purpose of the programs offered at the facility is to make sure the cycle of problem behaviors which led to criminal acts is permanently broken.

For Carl Robinson, 31, that means moving away from his felonious past.

He has some post-high school education, although he never got a degree. Before going to jail on a forgery charge, he spent more than a decade in the regular work force — driving trucks and moving furniture.

This is his second experience in a work-release facility and, by Robinson’s account, his last.

“I’m done when I’m finished here,” said Robinson, a Vancouver, Wash. native.

Robinson said he spent five months in a work camp and, when he became eligible for work release, used his grandmother’s address in Port Angeles to qualify him for entrance into Peninsula.

Peninsula Work Release only takes felons who have a permanent address or immediate family member living in Mason, Kitsap, Jefferson or Clallam counties. Gig Harbor is considered part of the peninsula as well, although the rest of Pierce County is exempt.

Robinson said the county-run work release facility in Clark County was okay, but he wanted to get out of that area after he left prison.

“I used (my grandmother’s) address to relocate myself away from my crime partners,” he said. “It’ll be easier that I don’t know anybody.”

Even though his release date isn’t until May, Robinson said he’s already trying to set up the basics for a new, felony-free life — a better job and a place to live. He said he hopes to take care of both at once by acquiring an apartment complex maintenance job. His current job washing dishes at the Howard Johnson in Bremerton pays enough to cover his expenses at Peninsula — residents pay $13.50 a day for room and board, buy their own personal supplies and pay for their own laundry — but probably not enough to support a life on the outside.

“I’m out networking on my days off,” Robinson said.

Peninsula keeps a tiered system of rewards for residents who make the most of their time there. Every resident enters the facility at level one, and can work his or her way up to level five by following the rules and putting in extra work.

One of the key ways to move up the ladder of privileges is to complete reparation hours.

These hours are not the same as community service — state law prohibits convicted felons from “double-dipping” by completing court-ordered service while still serving prison time. Instead, they are volunteer hours the resident spends doing everything from restocking food bank shelves to sweeping and installing drywall.

Residents need at least five hours of reparation time to move up a level, although other core requirements are needed as well.

Cindy Robinson said offenders must maintain a 40-hour-per-week work schedule, or some equivalent combination of work and school or apprenticeship. They also must have a positive balance in their bank accounts and be infraction-free for 90 days.

In return, residents get increased numbers of social hours each week — time they can use to leave the facility for non-work purposes.

“The higher up they go, the more hours they obtain,” Robinson said.

The maximum is 20 hours a week, but nearly everyone who gets a job — and thereby moves up to level two — is allowed some time out.

There are even rules dealing with the social interaction allowed between residents.

Peninsula Work Release has always been a co-ed facility, even though most other detention facilities are single-sex. However, Peninsula has found itself having to deal with increasingly higher levels of integration.

When Peninsula first opened, only six of the 60 beds were set aside for women. Now, 10 beds are designated female-only and are often completely full — a change officials credit to the steadily increasing number of female convicts.

Both the administrators and residents said there are few or no problems with housing men and women together. However, the facility has absolute “no dating” and “no hand-holding” rules to keep things strictly platonic. Even without the restrictions, however, most residents treat the co-ed environment as a type of short-term family.

“We all try to support each other,” said resident Lena Naputi.

“Most of the guys are very respectful to us,” resident Shirley Sapp-Sexton agreed. “We’re all here to do our time and get out.”

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