I get a few calls a month about 65% good time. Unlike many prison rumors, there really is a bill before the House proposing to increase good time to 65% for federal inmates. The Bill, H.R. 1475, was introduced March 12, 2009, but it is a long way from becoming a reality.
H.R. 1475 was introduced by Danny Davis (D-IL). The co-sponsors are Al Green (D-TX), Michael Honda (D-CA), Jesse Jackson (D-IL), Eddie Johnson (D-TX), John Lewis (D-GA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Edolphus Towns (D-NY), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Henry Waxman (D-CA). It was referred to committee on April 27, 2009. The committee in question is the House Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. If this Bill makes it out of committee it will get voted on by the House. If it gets approved by the House it will go to the Senate. Finally, if it gets past the Senate it goes to the President. The President must sign it to make law. The Bill may die at any stage of the process or get changed into something completely different from the current proposal. For example, a similar bill, the Federal Prison Work Incentive Act of 2008, was introduced in 2008, but died in committee.
As it is written, H.R. 1475 would only apply to inmates serving a sentence of at least six months and less than life. The Bill also requires that the prisoner have conduct records that show that the prisoner has “substantially observed all regulations promulgated by the Director of the Bureau of Prisons and has not been subjected to punishment.” Assuming such a prison record, H.R. 1475 proposes to permit good time as follows:
(1) 5 days for each month of the sentence, if the sentence is not less than 6 months and not more than 1 year.
(2) 6 days for each month of the sentence, if the sentence is more than 1 year and less than 3 years.
(3) 7 days for each month of the sentence, if the sentence is not less than 3 years and less than 5 years.
(4) 8 days for each month of the sentence, if the sentence is not less than 5 years and less than 10 years.
(5) 10 days for each month of the sentence, if the sentence is 10 years of more.
The above numbers show that the proposed rule would not grant a fixed rate of good time across the board. Rather, the proposal is to grant more good time, up to a maximum of about 67%, based on the length of sentence. By my calculations, on a six month sentence, five days off for each month should mean 30 days off the sentence, which is about a 17% reduction in the sentence. Put another way, this would equal 83% good time. This is an improvement for inmates, however, because the good time rules as of March 2010, provide no reduction for a sentence of one year or less.
On a sentence of three years, seven days of good time for each month of the sentence would translate to 252 days off of the sentence, or about a 23% reduction for good time. That equals about 72 days per year of good time, or 77% good time.
On a five year sentence, eight days of good time per month equals 96 days per year of good time for a total of 480 days of good time on the entire five years. That amounts to about a 26% reduction, or 74% good time.
On a ten year sentence, 10 days of good time per month, comes out to 120 days off of the sentence per year. That amounts to about 33% off for good time, or about 67% good time. Assuming this amount of good time, on a 10 year sentence an inmate would be eligible for four months per year off for good time, which is about double the current rule. That means that the inmate would serve just over 6 ½ years on a 10 year sentence after good time.
The good news does not end at proposed changes in the good time calculations. In addition to increases in good time, the Act also proposes to allow “in the discretion of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons“ up to an extra 3 days off for each month of “actual employment in an industry or camp for the first year or any part thereof, and not to exceed 5 days for each month of any succeeding year or part thereof.” To see how this could effect a 10 year sentence, assume that the inmate gets a qualifying job after six months and works in that job for a total of five years. The first year could yield an extra 36 days off of the sentence and the next four years could yield an extra 60 days off per year, for a total of a possible additional 276 days off for the five years of work. When added to the 1200 days off of a 10 year sentence for good time, that amounts to a possible 1476 days (about 49 months) off of a 10 year sentence, requiring the inmate to serve about 71 months, or just under six years.
The Act provides for the forfeiture of some or all of the good time if the inmate violates “the regulations promulgated by the Director of the Bureau of Prisons.” It also requires that the BOP shall provide some criteria for inmates to restore some or all of their forfeited good time.
Finally, the bad news. The Act proposes that the new rules are not retroactive. In other words, they would only apply to time served after the effective date of the new rule. For example, if an inmate had two years remaining on a ten year sentence, the new rules would only apply to the remaining two years, which would dramatically reduce the benefit to current inmates.