Federal Prisoners Serve More Than 85% of Their Time

By · Friday, December 26th, 2008

I recently received a question from a reader who asked whether it was really true that federal inmates had to serve 85 percent of their sentences. The sad truth is that inmates who are sentenced to federal prison today must serve more than 85 percent of their time.

Many prisoners mistakenly believe that they will serve 85 percent of their sentences. Yet in the vast majority of jurisdictions, Bureau of Prison administrators calculate good time as a percentage of time served rather than a percentage of the actual sentence. In other words, for every year that a prisoner serves in prison, he may receive a good time award of up to 54 days. By using that calculation, administrators get away with requiring federal prisoners something closer to 87 percent of their sentences. Some prisoners have taken the BOP to court on the way administrators calculate good time. As of this writing, however, very few prisoners have prevailed in court.

My hopes are to see reforms that will bring significant relief to those of us in federal prison. I was sentenced under a sentencing scheme known as the old law, which provided for more good time allotments. Yet anyone whose crime was committed after November 1, 1987, falls under the new law provisions, which provides for a maximum of 54 days per year of good time. My article entitled Preparing to Self-Surrender offers more detail on the prison experience.

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