Earned time credit programs incentivize and reward participation in certain accredited rehabilitative activities by accruing credits toward a shortened sentence. Although eligibility standards vary across jurisdictions, these credits may be made available to incarcerated men and women or those under correctional supervision. Earned time credits are usually distinct from “good time” credits, which are intended to incentivize safe and compliant behavior within correctional facilities.1 However, occasionally the two types of credit are combined. Earned time credit programs are created by the legislature and implemented by the Department of Corrections or Community Corrections respectively.2 In prisons, earned credits accrue for completion of educational, vocational, work, or rehabilitative programs, while in community corrections credits are offered for compliance with conditions of supervision. At least 38 states have now adopted some type of earned time credit program.3
The use of earned time credits as a release incentive builds upon robust research demonstrating that prison programs benefit communities as a whole.4 Participation in prison programming can be rewarded either on a rolling basis reflecting time spent in the program, in credits earned per day of participation, or as a one-time credit for completion of an entire program.5 For example, in Kansas, a one-time 60-day earned credit is available to certain those who complete drug treatment or vocational training, or who earn a general education diploma.6 Some states make credits available for contributions to disaster relief or conservation projects. In California, incarcerated men and women can earn two days of credit for each day of service contributed to relief.7
For those on community supervision, credits may be earned by following the conditions set within an individual’s case plan. This typically includes complying with reporting, making progress on any treatment plans, and paying all fines and fees.8 In Missouri, for example, probationers and parolees may earn up to 30 days off their sentence for every month in which they fulfill the conditions of their supervision.9 Missouri’s earned time program for probationers and parolees reduced the state’s supervised population by approximately 13,000 individuals in its first three years.10 Research shows that offering these incentives has increased the successful completion of community supervision, evidenced by compliance with conditions and participation in programming.11
In addition to contributing to decreases in the total correctional population, improving prison conduct, and contributing to system-wide fiscal savings, studies show that earned time credit programs provide a benefit for the community by reducing recidivism rates and improving post-release employment opportunities.12 An expanded earned time program implemented by Washington state led to a 3.5% reduction of future felonies among participants.13 In addition to this public safety benefit, the program also achieved over $15,000 in cost savings per participant--a return of $1.88 in savings for each dollar spent on the program.14 Programs in Maryland and New York have yielded similar cost savings and reductions in recidivism.15
PRISON FELLOWSHIP'S POSITION
Prison Fellowship® supports earned time credits as a release incentive that provides active accountability, recognizes rehabilitative progress, and contributes to both a constructive correctional culture and a safe community post-release. While proportional punishment may require a minimum amount of prison time served in order to satisfy what is owed for the harm to the victim, a restorative approach to justice may also allow for a portion of someone’s sentence to be shortened when a prisoner can demonstrate he or she has made a concerted effort to live positively and regain society’s trust. Earned time policies send a message that making amends and earning back the public’s trust are a meaningful part of a just punishment.
Prison Fellowship encourages policymakers to incentivize participation in meaningful opportunities for incarcerated men and women to participate in programming, dignifying work, and other avenues to rehabilitative progress. By providing incentives for people to gain knowledge and skills or participate in programs that involve giving back to the community, we advance human dignity, facilitate values that are consistent with a productive life in society, and increase public safety.
This chart was created to demonstrate the maximum percentage of a sentence that can be reduced by taking full advantage of statutory earned and good time credit policies at the state and federal level.