Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Furlough Facts

By Ed Mead

Whatever you decide to do with your life you should try to do it well - be a professional. I'm a professional prisoner. I do time. I've got 15 years in and figure to retire in another 5, maybe sooner if I have some luck in the courts. Then I'll spend my time with loved ones, fixing computers and carrying signs for one cause or another.

Like all professionals, doctors, lawyers and such, it is necessary for me to stay on top of the latest literature in my chosen (?) field. The other day I was reading a journal for "Correctional Professionals" that had some interesting statistics on furloughs I'd like to share with you.

Furloughs got a bad name during the 1988 presidential campaign. Massachusetts's prisoner Willie Horton was serving life without parole when he escaped from a furlough. Ten months later he terrorized a Maryland couple, raping the wife and stabbing her husband. While the Massachusetts furlough program had been started by a republican governor, Bush accused his democratic opponent, Governor Dukakis, of being "soft on crime." Thirty-second TV sound bits featuring Willie's picture made "furlough" into a dirty word.

Anyway, this journal conducted a survey during the fall of 1989 to find out what happened to furloughs in the aftermath of the presidential campaign. The upshot of it was that there were around 170,000 furloughs granted nationally in 1988, compared to 200,000 in 1987. Those hit the hardest were of course lifers. Two states, Nevada and New Hampshire, discontinued their furlough programs. Many other states tightened their qualifications of eligibility in such programs.

Let's look at some 1988 figures for neighboring states and around the country. Oregon furloughed long-term prisoners, 3,300 of them (15% were revoked). Alaska had 3,785 furloughs with a 98% success rate. And Idaho furloughed 1,268 prisoners with a 99% success rate. Florida furloughed a whopping 18,000 people with a success rate of 99.9%. Little ol' Maine furloughed 2,587 with a 99% rate of success. South Dakota furloughed 1,013 with 100% success, and New Mexico got 100% with 970 furloughs. North Dakota, Maryland, Iowa and Wisconsin also had 100% success rates.

Where does Washington State fit into the overall scheme of things? Well, we do have a furlough program albeit infrequently used. This state granted a mere 290 furloughs in 1988 with a success rate of 99.6% (one man had his furlough revoked).

How many Willie Horton types are lurking about? Not many. In those rare cases where furloughs were not successful it was almost always due to alcohol (or sometimes drug) use, late returns or not being at the location agreed upon. Seldom was another crime committed, and where it did happen it was generally a traffic or property offense. Only three stales reported "assaultive behavior" by people on furlough status, and two of those (New Jersey with 3,561 furloughs and Illinois with 6,979 furloughs) reported only one incident each.

When I'm six months of my "retirement" date, have minimum custody and no detainers, my captors may take the risk of furloughing me. But I won't be holding my breath waiting for them to do it. Neither should you. It's important to understand the big picture: If prisoncrats show us any compassion, mercy or similar human feelings we may not leave here bursting with rage. And if that doesn't happen then our anger isn't taken out on our wives, children, neighbors and the community. We don't come back to prison! Like one state responding to the survey said, "Furlough participants have lower recidivism rates."

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login