Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Good Time Credit is NOT 15%

It is commonly thought that federal inmates can earn 15% off of their sentence for each year served. This is the so-called "good-time credit."

The Sentencing Commission in 1987 created baseline sentences by surveying what actual sentences were for a broad array of crimes. It then divided by 0.85 to make the sentence about 15% longer so that the good-time credit would bring the sentence back down to the standard amount. In other words, the base guideline sentences actually contain a built-in 15% "bad-time" penalty which "good-time" simply erases.

However, instead of simply multiplying the guideline sentence by 85% to get back to the base level sentence, the BOP came up with a different, more-convoluted interpretation of the statute. Courts appear to have acknowledged some ambiguity in the language of the statute and that BOP's interpretation is one viable interpretation. Since it is up to BOP to calculate setences, their interpretation is deferred to as long as it is deemed "reasonable."

The result of the BOP's interpretation is that an inmate only gets 12.8% good-time credit rather than 15% -- 47 days per year instead of 54 days.

Why is this?

The short explanation -- read the NACDL link below for full explanation -- is that BOP only gives you credit based on "term of incarceration" not "term of sentence." According to BOP, good-time credit must be 15% of actual prison time, not sentenced time. What this means is that if BOP were to give an inmate 15% of 365 days (that is, 54 days -- actually 54.75 but I guess they round down), then the inmate would only serve 311 days. Since 311 is the actual "term of imprisonment" then BOP claims that the inmate is actually getting a 17.3% credit (54/311). In other words, BOP calculates the good-time percentage using adjusted time as the denominator, not the sentenced time. Therefore, they determined that 47, not 54, days credit would actually result in 15% because term of imprisonment would then be 318 days (365-47) and 47/318 = 14.78%, which I guess is as close as they could get to 15% (although if they gave 48 days credit, 48/317=15.14%, which is actually closer to 15% -- whatever). The bottom line is that BOP claims they are giving 15% credit but to most people it appears as 12.8% because 47/365=12.8%.

Only sentences greater than 1 year are eligible for good-time (and halfway house for that matter). That is why you see so many sentences at one year and a day. If the judge gave a sentence of exactly one year (365 days), the inmate would not qualify for the 47 days (or the halfway house). However, with a sentence of one year and a day (366 days), the inmates will actually serve 319 days... about 10½ months. The final 32 days (10% of 319) would be spent in a halfway house.

Thus, a one year sentence turns into 287 days in prison (9½ months) and 32 days in a halfway house.

As I understand it, the good-time credit is given at the end of each year served. Where I am not clear is what this means if, say, your sentence is 23 months. At the end of the first year, you get 47 days credit. But you never complete the second year since it is only partial. Does this mean that you only get the 47 days for the first year but no credit for the significant part of the second year. Most people would simply multiply 15% by 23 months (let's call it 690 days) and come up with 103 days believing that is their good time credit. But it is possible that you may only get 47 for completing the first year and none for the rest. [UPDATE: I found the answer. The statute specifically says "credit for the last year or portion of a year of the term of imprisonment shall be prorated and credited within the last six weeks of the sentence." I guess you do get credit for the last partial year, which of course makes sense.]

Furthermore, if your sentence is, like Jim Black's, 63 months, then with his good time credit for the early years of the sentence, he will end up serving less than 60 months (credit = 47 days x 4 anniversaries = 188 days) and will not get credit for the 5th year of his sentence (let alone the extra 3 months after 5 years) because he never actually got to the end of the 5th year. [UPDATE: As I indicated above, Jim Black should get credit for the portion of the 5th year that he will actually serve.]

What is the difference? Well, by my calculations:

Original sentence: 1916 days (5 years x 365 days plus 91 days for the 3 months)
15% Good Time Calculation: 287 days
Actual Good Time Calculation for First 4 years: 4 years x 47 days/year = 188 days
Actual Good Time Calculation for Partial 5th year: 268 days/365 days x 47 days/year = 34 days
Actual Total Good Time : 212 days
Difference: 75 days (2½ months)

As I stated at the beginning this is unfortunately more complicated than it should be.

For more details, I refer you to the following links:$File/pg12.pdf


Anonymous said...

wow, this is something that the average person never finds out until doing time. Imagine being happy thinking 15% will come off then finding out you have been cheated and will continue to serve time then what you originally thought was your release day. I think it is another form of mental and psychological punishment-torture for the inmate. As it is the sentences are so long...sad

Bill Bailey said...

You will know long before your release when your specific release date is. Sentence computations are done by the Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) located at the Grand Praire Office Complex (Texas). Usually within a few weeks they will have your exact release date computed and posted on the BOP website.

You should always ask the records administrator at your prison for your release date and have someone review it. They originally gave me 6 months instead of 3 due to the judge issuing a confusing Judgment and Commitment document which we had to get amended twice but BOP only had the original.

There was an inmate at Pensacola who provided legal assistance and has -- in his 13 years locked up -- assisted 57 inmates in either getting released early (due to BOP sentence miscalculations or actual reductions in sentence or even having sentence overturned).

Every inmate is entitled to credit for every day or partial day he is in custody. This includes the day you are arrested even if you are never incarcerated. In my case, I flew to Philadelphia for routine arraignment and then US Marshall and FBI processing (thus my mugshot on left side of my blog). I was never locked up or even handcuffed (in fact, I was never handcuffed at any time during this whole legal experience, including prison). Processing took about 2 hours. I got one day credit for that. Nice surprise.

Many inmates, however, spend time in various county jails and holdover facilities. Sometimes they spend a few days in jail after their arrest and then are released and then maybe get locked up again and then get released, etc. It is entirely possible that some of these stays may fall through the cracks and BOP doesn't give appropriate credit.

If you would like a job as an Inmate Sentence Computation Technician, click here. It tells you "Why is it Great to Work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons?" Too funny!!

I will be curious to see what Jim Black's release date is calculated as.

By the way, here is another article on the subject.