Good time in jail? A 33% reduction

Most have heard of “good time” off for keeping out of trouble in jail, but do you know how much off people normally get? For the majority of jail sentences, the inmate will get one-third off in good time. That means that when you read in the paper that a person received a sentence of 20 months, in reality, that person may only be doing about 14 months or so. This is true on essentially all misdemeanor offenses and on a good portion of felony offenses. Some felonies, like murder, get less than a third off for good time (10-15% depending on what charge the person was convicted of). And then there are felony enhancements, like the firearm enhancement, where a person does straight time (no good time) on the enhancement portion of the sentence (which can be 5 years). Pretty much all misdemeanor sentences are eligible for work release in King County. And even on felonies, the Department of Corrections (DOC) often kicks the prisoner out for the last six months of the sentence to serve that portion of his or her sentence as work release. So, a felon looking at 20 months on a felony DUI will actually only serve 8 months in jail, then serve 6 months on work release (for a total sentence of 14 months, with the good time off). And a portion of that 8 months of jail may include electronic home detention that the person served pre-trial, prior to sentencing. This is not nearly as bad as the 20 month sentence that you may see quoted in the paper.

RCW 9.94A.729, the good time statute, leaves it up to the county jail to determine the good time amount. Jails are constantly looking for creative ways to get people out of jail in order to save money, so most jails set the good time amount as high as possible. Another quirk in the system is the good time off only kicks in after a specific minimum number of days (set by each individual jail). This number can vary from jail to jail but 5 is a typical number. So, for instance, on a sentence of 4 days, a person actually serves 4 days. But for a sentence of 6 days, the person actually serves 4 days (because of the one third off for good time). Figuring out how much good time a person is likely to receive is easy enough for misdemeanor sentences, and for felonies that do not involve prison time. But for a person heading to the DOC, the calculation can become much more complicated. So contact an attorney to find out how much good time should be given on a particular sentence.

Good time is great. It provides an incentive for inmates to behave. Work release programs are great as well, as they pass the cost of incarceration from the tax payers, to the person serving the sentence (because the inmate has to pay for it). Further, that person actually leaves incarceration employed. I’ll talk more about work release in future blog posts. Stay tuned!