Nebraska's Work Release Program: A Second Chance

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You've heard the stories about inmates walking away from their work release jobs, trying to avoid going back to prison. We looked into the program and investigated how many people make it through, earning their way back into society, and how many walk away.

They are all around us. Your waitress or cashier. But you probably have no idea they're convicted felons. Work release inmates are trying to earn a living; reeducating themselves on what it's like to be lawful members of society.

Meet Troy Hand.

He wakes up, gets ready for work the same as everyone else. But unlike most, he wakes up at Lancaster County Community Corrections, the facility that houses inmates in the work release program.

Troy is what you might call a white collar criminal. If it wasn't for work, he would spend his day locked up.

"You feel human again, while you're working," Hand said.

"Without the work release program, our inmates would have a much more difficult time being successful in the community," said Larry Wayne, Deputy Director for Division of Programs and Community Services.

But only certain inmates qualify for the program. They have to be toward the end of their sentence, show good behavior and be considered low risk.

But even then, they continue to be monitored.

"Our ID's are scanned, the department is highly technical. We are responsible for ourselves the minute we walk out the door," Hand said.

"We also make calls while they're out in the community to make sure they're following the itinerary they've submitted," Wayne said.

For some, the freedom of work release is just too much to handle.
There are currently 135 inmates on work release. In the last year, 35 have have escaped. Some just didn't come back on time but others fled.

"By and large, the people who don't return aren't a risk to the public. They're more at risk to relapse into drug or alcohol abuse," Wayne said.

The majority of those walk-aways are returned within 24 hours. But the program does have its share of success.

More than half the inmates who complete the work release program will stay out of prison for good. But employers must be willing to hire them first.

"The leap of faith in hiring a felon is enormous. It adds a lot of stress to the work environment," Hand said.

One local business was willing to take that leap, hiring Troy as a manager; even after he had illegally sold stocks, putting four felonies on his record.

The business owner talked with us. But admits he's taking a risk.

He didn't want his face or business name on camera. It's all because of the stigma that comes with hiring felons.

"I was nervous at first but he's a very honorable person. Troy has brought us a level of experience and expertise that we wouldn't normally see here," the business owner said.

Even Troy had doubts of his own. Should he tell his co-workers about his past?

"I chose to air that. It's a part of my life. I made a mistake. I'm in the work release center. I'm an inmate and I made it known that I'm that person. I made a mistake. I'm paying for it. However, my skills will show you that I'm a good boss, I'm a good manager," Hand said.

But not all inmates work out. This business has had its share of disappointments

"Of the three currently on staff that have turned their life around, I've probably had 10 that were the complete opposite of that," the business owner said.

Among the used car parts, Troy believes his job has done that. Given new life to someone society would throw out.

"How you handle your mistake, how you correct it and how you continue life after that mistakes helps you develop integrity and morals and helps you become a better person throughout life," Hand said.

Troy is eligible for parole in March. He'll go back being the CEO of his own company but will stay forever grateful to the those who gave him a second chance.