good time | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction 

Good time refers to a specified amount of time taken off of a prisoner’s sentence for not violating rules while incarcerated.

When an individual is convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time in prison, the thought of losing years of their life can be overwhelming. However, there is a glimmer of hope for those who follow the rules and behave themselves while incarcerated. This hope comes in the form of “good time,” which refers to a specified amount of time taken off a prisoner’s sentence for not violating rules while incarcerated.

This system is designed to incentivize prisoners to behave while in prison. By following the rules and avoiding disciplinary infractions, prisoners can reduce their sentences by a predetermined amount of time. The exact amount of time a prisoner can earn varies depending on the jurisdiction and the length of their sentence.

For example, in the federal prison system, prisoners can earn up to 54 days of good time per year, which equates to approximately 15% off their sentence. However, this can be reduced if the prisoner violates rules or participates in prohibited activities.

The concept has been around for over a century and has evolved over time. In the early 1900s, it was primarily used as a way to incentivize good behavior and was seen as a tool to encourage prisoners to reform. However, over time, the focus shifted, and it became more of a way to manage prison populations and reduce overcrowding.

Critics of the system argue that it creates a perverse incentive for prisoners to avoid getting caught rather than focusing on genuine rehabilitation. They also argue that it can be disproportionately awarded to prisoners who have access to educational and vocational programs and can navigate the complex rules and regulations of prison life.

Despite these criticisms, many prison officials and policymakers still believe that it is an essential tool for managing prison populations and incentivizing good behavior. By reducing the amount of time that prisoners spend in prison, it can help reduce overcrowding, improve prison conditions, and save taxpayers money.

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Last Modified: 04/20/2023


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