Credit for Work and Educational Programs in the Jail

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One of the goals of the Justice Reinvestment Act is to have more misdemeanants serve their time in the county jail instead of the Department of Correction. I’ll write soon about the new rules for determining where a sentence should be served (you should disregard this prior post on that subject). In the meantime, it strikes me that some sheriffs and jailers—faced with the prospect of housing additional sentenced inmates—might like a refresher on the various credits that can be applied to a misdemeanor sentence served in the jail. (This post will not cover good time credit for impaired driving inmates because good time is not a work or education credit; it is based solely good behavior. You can read all about that here.)

For misdemeanants sentenced under Structured Sentencing (which is to say almost everyone except impaired drivers), there are two broad types of credit that the jail could award: (1) earned time and meritorious time credit pursuant to statewide regulations and (2) credit for work or educational programming pursuant to the sheriff or jail administrator’s authority under G.S. 162-60.

The Department of Correction (DOC) sets the rules on earned time and meritorious time, and under G.S. 148-13(e), those regulations “shall be distributed to and followed by local jail administrators with regard to sentenced jail prisoners.” The latest version (May 2011) of the regulation is available here. According to the regulation, jails have a responsibility to establish procedures for granting, approving, and documenting all sentence credits. DOC Policy & Procedure B.0116(b)(1). The regulations also set out default credit rules for medically and physically unfit inmates.

Earned time is sentence reduction credit for participation in work or program activities. It is for Structured Sentencing inmates serving an active sentence and does not apply to DWI inmates, those in custody for contempt of court, health law violators, or probationers serving a split sentence. Misdemeanants, unlike felons, are not subject to a minimum sentence below which they may not dip through earned time credit, but their sentence reduction is limited to the extent that they may receive a total of no more than 4 days of earned time credit per month of incarceration. G.S. 15A-1340.20(d). Any inmate eligible for earned time is also eligible for meritorious time for things like working overtime, working in emergency or inclement conditions, exemplary acts, and certain educational and programmatic achievements. Meritorious time is capped at four days per month for misdemeanants. If a sheriff or jail administrator wishes to award meritorious credit he or she must forward the recommendation to DOC’s Chief of Program Services for final review and approval.

A county may decide to have its own program—independent of DOC regulations—for awarding credit for certain work and educational programs for sentenced inmates in the jail. Under G.S. 162-58, a board of county commissioners, subject to approval by the sheriff, may issues rules and regulations for work “on projects to benefit units of State or local government” by convicted inmates. The work has to be under the supervision of county employees or sheriff’s personnel. A sheriff or jail administrator may also allow a convicted misdemeanant to participate in a GED program or “any other education, rehabilitation, or training program”—a fairly broad authorization—under G.S. 162-59.1; no board action is required for those programs. An inmate is entitled to a sentence reduction of 4 days for each 30 days of work performed or each 30 days of classes attended—with the caveat that an inmate’s total sentence reduction by earned time and credit under G.S. 162-60 shall not exceed four days per month of incarceration. G.S. 15A-1340.20(d).

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