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Prison Reform Should Include 'Good Time Credit'

The federal good time credit statute provides that “a prisoner who is serving a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year” may receive credit toward the service of that prisoner’s sentence “of up to 54 days at the end of each year of the prisoner’s term of imprisonment.”[1] One might assume, then, that a prisoner serving a two-year sentence would be eligible for 108 days of good time credit, a prisoner serving a three-year sentence would be eligible for 162 days of credit, and so on. But the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) does not calculate good time credit that way. Instead, it “debits” the prisoner’s accrued good time credit from the prisoner’s final year of incarceration. In other words, the good time credit is calculated based on the days actually served rather than the sentence imposed by the court. Consequently, eligible prisoners only receive a maximum of 47 days of good time credit per year served instead of the 54 ostensibly promised to them by the statute. This confounding approach was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2010 decision in Barber v. Thomas.[2]

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