Sentence Reduction Credit: The Basics

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In several prior posts (including this one) I provided a link to the Department of Correction’s administrative regulation on sentence reduction credits.  I’ve written about the credits applicable in impaired driving cases, and just last week I wrote about a Supreme Court case on good time credit in the federal prison system. It occurs to me, though, that I’ve never actually written about the basic credit rules for garden-variety Structured Sentencing cases. So I thought I would do that today.

Sentence reduction credits are days of credit DOC can award to inmates as an incentive for good behavior, work, or program participation in prison. Don’t confuse sentence reduction credits with jail credit. Jail credit is time that a judge calculates and awards for time already spent in confinement as a result of the charge that culminated in the defendant’s sentence. G.S. 15-196.1 through -196.4. Sentence reduction credits, by contrast, are awarded by correctional authorities according to rules enacted by the Secretary of Correction under G.S. 148-13. For Structured Sentencing inmates, the secretary’s rules must comply with G.S. 15A-1340.13(d) for felonies and G.S. 15A-1340.20(d) for misdemeanors.” Earned time” is the primary sentence reduction credit available to those sentenced under Structured Sentencing.

For felons, earned time may not reduce the sentence below the minimum term set out on the sentencing grid. DOC rules set out three rates at which earned time may be awarded. Earned Time I is credit of two days per month for inmates who work four to six hours per day in unskilled jobs or low level activity. Earned Time II allows four days of credit per month for four to eight hours of skilled labor or moderate level activity each day. And Earned Time III is a credit of six days per month for at least six hours of skilled or high-level activity each day. It’s no coincidence that the maximum available credit (6 days, or about 20% of every month) roughly matches the differential between the minimum and maximum sentence for a felony (maximum sentences are, generally, 120% of the minimum, plus time for post-release supervision in appropriate cases, as discussed here). That means an inmate with the best possible prison job can work his or her way all the way down from the maximum to the minimum—assuming he or she starts working right away, which I’ll discuss more below. Earned time is subject to forfeiture for disciplinary infractions, but may also be restored if an inmate’s behavior improves. The Department also awards credit to disabled or medically unfit prisoners, granting four days per month to those unable to engage in any available job or program.

For misdemeanants, sentence reduction credit is capped at four days per month. That four day total includes earned time credit and any credit awarded under G.S. 162-60. That law allows the custodian of a jail, in his or her sole discretion, to award a credit to “persons convicted of misdemeanors or felonies” for “work on projects to benefit units of State or local government,” or to convicted misdemeanants who “faithfully participate[]” in a GED program or any other education, rehabilitation, or training program.

All inmates who are eligible for earned time are also eligible for “meritorious time.” Meritorious time can be awarded for acts of heroism or for things like working overtime, working in inclement weather, and special educational achievements like completing a degree. Meritorious credit is generally capped at 30 days for each act of exemplary conduct or degree earned, but it is also subject to the more general rule that total sentence reduction credits may not reduce a felon’s sentence below the statutory minimum, and may not reduce a misdemeanant’s sentence by more than four days per month for the total number of months of incarceration.

You can imagine that an inmate who arrives in prison with a substantial amount of jail credit under his belt will never be able to work his sentence down to his minimum through earned time alone. Suppose, for example, that an inmate arrives at DOC to serve a 20–24 month sentence after spending 10 months in pretrial confinement. That effectively leaves him with a 10–14 month sentence to serve (under G.S. 15-196.1, jail credit reduces both the maximum and the minimum). Even if he got a great (i.e., Earned Time III, 6-day-per-month) prison job right away, he would never be able to work a full four months off his maximum. His best-case scenario (absent meritorious time) would be release at 11.67 months—that’s the break point where actual time served plus credit equals the maximum.

So inmates with lengthy pretrial stints are disadvantaged when it comes to earned time credit potential. But must they be? Could a defendant ask DOC for earned time credit for work done in the jail during his or her pretrial confinement? Apparently, yes. I know there’s at least one jail that attaches a memo to a convicted defendant’s judgment informing DOC of any work performed in the jail. DOC honors the time, converting it into credit at the appropriate earned time level. This seems like a fair approach—and a win-win-win situation for the defendant, the jail, and DOC. The defendant is obviously happy to get as much credit as possible. The jail is able to offer pretrial and backlogged inmates (who make up the majority of its population) an incentive to work or complete programs. And it would surely free up some prison beds each year if more inmates arrived at DOC with some credit already in the bank. Not every jail will have the resources to offer work or programs for inmates, but those that can might consider working with DOC to see if credit is a possibility.

20 comments on “Sentence Reduction Credit: The Basics

  1. Thank you for the information. These are questions I receive on a daily basis from my clients.

  2. Thank you! have been wondering about this but never knew where to ask.

  3. Interesting twist to the last paragraph…. and you know me, I have a question.

    Could a pretrial inmate working or participating in a program get “that” earn time once he is sentenced to the county jail?

    As always, I appreciate you sharing the knowledge and infomation,
    Roger

  4. I was recently released from a 33-month sentence in NC DOC. I found your blog while researching supervision costs.

    I took a plea for eight consecutive 6-8mo sentences, five of them being active confinement. I was at a huge disadvantage because of the sentencing structure and the fact I spent exactly twelve months in county jail pending trial. Had I known *anything* about DOC operations and time credits there would be no way in hell I would have accepted the plea as is. My attorney also failed to inform me of any caveats.

    Consecutive sentences expire, one after the other. Once the first expires, you begin the second, all excess Gain time and Merit time credits are trashed and you begin at step one. It really is like being discharged and admitted on the day of expiration. The only thing that remains is your custody level.

    The method which the state applies jail time is madness. With 12 months of jail credit at the time of sentencing, there is no gain/merit time to apply.. therefor my first 6-8mo sentence was maxed out at eight months, with the stroke of a pen. This is prior to any records being sent to Combined Records. The remaining four months was applied to my second sentence, which is the sentence I was admitted to DOC under. After three weeks of processing, I was sent to a min. custody camp. About two weeks later I was assigned a job on a road crew (now 5 months+ into the current sentence).

    The major of off-camp jobs, be it road crews, community work programs, city/county jobs, etc are assigned Gain Time Level III (6-days gain time per month). Most of these jobs also automatically receive 8-15 merit days per month for a max of about 21 credits monthly. This can very dramatically from camp to camp, but averaged about the same through my experience.

    Because of my fairly short consecutive sentences, I was only able to work down my second to seven months. In total, I did just over three “extra” months vs being sent to DOC much earlier. While this is not a great deal of time, I had absolutely no chance to work down these sentences to the minimum. Please don’t receive this as a complaint, I simply wanted to provide some on-topic information. Hope this was interesting or helpful!

  5. Does getting married while in prison give you any merit days or days off your sentence?

  6. Jordan S: An inmate does not receive meritorious time for getting married.

    • How do you go about getting married in a NC STATE PRISON?

  7. my boyfriend has a 8 month sentence no mon or max will he be able to work that down. i had a dui taht was 6 months cut down to 90 days and i did 77 days so he shouldnt do the whole 8 months right?

  8. How MUCH TIME DO AN INMATE HAVE TO SERVE ON A 180-224 months +265 days credit in jail SENTENCE WITH GOOD BEHAVIOR AND A JOB + IN A PROGRAM? ALSO WANTED TO KNOW,DO YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION ON TIME CUT…THANK YOU SO MUCH

  9. If you are placed on probation for 30 mons and violate 7 mons in and they make your sentence active…Do they subtract the 7 mons or do you have to pull the entire 30 month sentence. Please Help!!!

  10. My son got 12 to 34 months in Indian springs NV after he served 7 months they added another 5 months saying that the judge made a mistake when he said the sentence would run concurrant. He wasn’t brought back to court he was just sent a letter from his lawyer siteing
    statues. This was so wrong and I don’t now how offender management
    got away with doing this. I was under the impression that once the JOC
    is signed it a done deal. Now because he is disabled they are adding
    another six days a month to his sentence is this legal? He is supposed to
    be released on parole Nov. 4,2012 but because of the extre 6 days per
    month he won’t be released until Nov. 22, 2012

  11. My husband is current serving time in our local jail. He recently requested solitary confinement due to another inmate trying to start trouble that he didn’t want a part of. I was told by another resident here that inmates who request solitary confinement can be given credit for that as well. Can you tell me if this is true? Thanks for any help.

  12. My fiancee is in prison in NC he has been working on the task force for 31daysYou now. I was told if you work on the task force you get 28days a month credit. His projected release date is 3-18-13 but it is suppose to drop now since he get 28days a month. I am so confused can someone help me with this question?

  13. This entire article was extremely helpful. What does the term “time cut” entail? Is there such a term? My son was sentenced to 38-58 months for a felony. He was a first time offender and that was the minimum.
    Thank you in advance.

  14. My fiance is in jail right now he got sentenced 12-24 with an ASR which reduced it to 11 months but his lawyer told him that he would only be going for 9 monthsand 11 days but he recieved his judgement saying 11 months in prison buthe gets work release. He called methe other night and told me if we got married while he was in prison it would knock off a month and a half off his sentence?

  15. My bf is 16& has 2 conspiracy. 1 misdemeanor & 2 felony ‘s. He was charged with gun assault & robbery! How long do u thunk he wikl have?

  16. My sister inquired about this program … without my nephew (her son in law) agreeing to participate. He’s been told he’s going to be moved … he had to participate … there’s nothing be can do. The reduction in time is not worth the change in location. If he’s moved, he cannot see his daughter and his seriously ill mother!

    How can they MAKE him participate?

    The few days he would gain are not as many days of visitation he will miss with his child and parent!

  17. If an inmate has been sentenced to 110 with 62 days jail credit and is serving his time in the county jail does he have to do only 85% of his time. Will they ship him out if he only has 39 days left on his sentence in north carolina

  18. If an inmate was sentenced to 110 days with 62 days credit for time served, does he have to serve the whole 48 days or does he have to serve only 85% of his sentence? Will he get shipped to prison if he has 40 days left?

  19. My boyfriend may get a 1to 6 how much time does he have to serve before he’s eligible for parole .or release

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