Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1951 No. 452 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


State Reformatory and Penitentiary inmates may work outside the institution only in honor camps for purposes of reforestation, woodcutting, land clearing, and processing of foods in state canneries.

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                                                                February 19, 1951

Honorable Van R. Hinkle
Supervisor, Department of Public Institutions
Public Lands-Social Security Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                             Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 452

Dear Sir:

            You have requested the opinion of this office regarding the nature of work projects that prisoners in the Washington State Reformatory and Penitentiary may perform outside of their respective institutions.  Specifically, you inquire about "flood control" and "civilian defense" work.

            We conclude that:

            Such inmates may be released only to honor camps for purposes of "reforestation, woodcutting, land clearing, and processing of foods in state canneries, and construction of water supply facilities in state institutions."


            The superintendents of the instant institutions are public officials who, under bond, are responsible for the proper care and custody of those committed to their charge.  Their authority is limited to the directions of the commitment orders,

            "* * * The custodian of a prisoner upon receiving a commitment can do only what the commitment orders him to do, that is, receive and safely keep  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] the prisoner, so that the latter may be thence discharged in due course of law.  He has no power to increase the severity of the punishment assessed by the court except as prescribed by law.  He must keep the prisoners at the jail and not elsewhere, * * *" 41 Am.Jur. 892; See also 1945 A.G.O. 376 [[1945 AGO 376]](Oct. 10, 1945).

            unless legislatively authorized to do otherwise.

            Prisoners were permitted to be kept in honor camps by chapter 220, Laws of 1939 (Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp. § 10249-1 to § 10249-27), to be employed in the clearing or reforestation of land.  Their permitted activities were broadened by chapter 175, Laws of 1943 (Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp. 1943, § 10279-1 to § 10279-8) to include "reforestation, woodcutting, land clearing, processing of food in state canneries, and construction of water supply facilities to state institutions."  For the period of World War II, inmates were also permitted to work on outside farms under suitable guard.

            Nowhere is found the requisite authority to permit prisoners to be used for other type work outside the institution.  Sections 1 and 2, chapter 305, Laws of 1927 (Rem. Rev. Stat. §§ 10223-1, 10223-2; P.P.C. §§ 769-23, 769-25), and sections 7 and 8, chapter 212, Laws of 1927 (Rem. Rev. Stat. §§ 10280-7, 10280-8; P.P.C. §§ 759-11, 759-13), giving the director "power to make rules and regulations for employment of prisoners" in the reformatory and penitentiary pertain only to work within the confines of the institution.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General