Sentence Reduction Credit: The Basics

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.

43 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,

  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!

    • If I got a flat sentence of 180 days can I work it down if I’m a felon

  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?

    • My husband has been incarcerated numerous times in his teens and early twenties. He was last released in 2006 and he and I got married, started a business, had a child, doing great! Unfortunately he has an addiction problem which led to his recent incarceration. He has always fought while locked up but this time has been a role model for the lat 8 months. The doc is saying because of previous points he will have to stay in medium security. Is there a way to dissolve points due to it being 9 years ago? How can they hold something over your head for that long? Any help would be appreciated

  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?


  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

  20. My son got 6 to 8 months in N.C. He was told he was being sent from Polk to Johnston to be in DART. Program. The day before he was to go in the program he was told he actually wasn’t supposed to be in it. My son has had seizures so they have him on restrictions and won’t let him get a job. How can he punished as to not be able to meet his min because of his medical condition? Is there anything he can do. His caseworker is no help and seems not to care. I spoke to him.

  21. I have a Question, I was released last week, I read a statue that says that and ex-inmate could ues his merit days towards post release

  22. can an ex inmate use there merit days towards post release

  23. The killer of my son recently received a sentence of a minimum of 21 years 6 months with a maximum of 26 years 10 months. Does this mean he will have to serve a minimum of 21 years without possibility of early release? I certainly hope so.

  24. I’m confused, I have 3 sentences of 18mo to 4 years, what should I expect (I just violated probation by leaving the state)?

  25. My boyfriend was senteced32 to 48 months in prison, he sat in county jail for 6 months before trial. This was his second time being locked up for a drug operation my town does which SUCKS !!! Due to his points he is in brown clothes, he has no infractions, never been in trouble while in there. Hopefully soon he will be going to green clothes soon . We had a planned marriage, I “heard” that getting married in DOC will cut time. what are different programs he can enter to reduce time .

  26. Do infractions make the time served longer?

  27. My boyfriend got sentenced 18 months & 30 months of extended supervision with credit of 170 days. His lawyer told me that he would be out in 9 months because of his 170 days credits, is it possible ?
    Thank you

  28. My boyfriend has to serve 16 months in correctional facility. If he does a behavior program..and work detail can the warden get him good time or good credit. He just went this week. What does he have to do

  29. My boyfriend is in state prison. Is it true that if we was to get married while he is in there that he could get some time off his sentence? Do you get any kind of special visits if you get married?

  30. This information is helpful… But I need to know what course of action I can take for being denied jail credit and having to spend six days over my maximum sentence imprisoned and away from my children. Please advise,what I can do?

  31. Hi,

    My husband never got into troubles until his 40’s after becoming addicted to pills while going through a divorce from his wife of many years & his business suffering due to be economy. He was charged with felony larceny & sentenced to 5-15 months suspended for 36 months (which will be up in Dec.) last year he went to DART for 122 days (his whole room got an extra 30 days for not telling on someone who was smoking). While on probation after a state raid he was caught growing marijuana & has a different probation case for that which will be up in August. He’s relapsed once & now they are wanting to activate his sentence. The PO told him he would only get credit for the 90 days, told me it would be up to the judge if he got credit for the extra month & his lawyer seemed to think he would get credit for the 122 days. We have 5 boys between us. He has 3 from a previous marriage & I have 1 (who considers him his Dad b/c his has never really been in his life) than we got a huge surprise last year when I got pregnant & now have an 8 month old (so 8 months, 9 yr, 14 yrs, 21 yrs & 24 yrs)! I guess what I’m trying to figure out is how long he will be gone for. I’ve figured up that 5 months is 152 days so hay takes his minimum down to 1-2 months depending on if he gets credit for 90 days or 122. Should he get credit for the extra month in DART (he worked his way up to Senior Coordinator & was very active in the program) & with only 1-2 months left to serve can he get any gain time? He’s the most upset he’s going to miss his son last year of middle school baseball & worried that he may have to do more that 1-2 months & miss our baby’s 1st birthday in June (& he is a Daddy’s boy). His court appointed lawyer said he would mostly likely do 60 days +/- 30 days but wasn’t sure, he nice but doesn’t seem very invested in the case. Also he is our sole provider so I can stay at home with our son & homeschool my oldest so we are trying to plan to make sure we are taken care of while he’s away!! Thanks

  32. I reunited with a female I knew 50 yrs ago. She’s in prison and has been for over 20 years. She’s accused of a terrible crime. I think though probably she had some part she took the fall. Well after many months of calls,Letters,and visits I fell in love. We got married. I want her out. One visit her sister told a guard to take care of her. The guard reply . she takes care of us. How can I get her out. She’s not a typical inmate. I’m a decent looking college educated man. I could have found a free woman. This lady is a very special person. 20 years plus in a hell hole is long enough. Please advise.

  33. […] solution being explored In North Carolina is detailed in the UNC School of Government Blog on North Carolina Criminal Law. Felons have three ways in which they can earn time towards reducing their sentence. These three ways […]

  34. […] sentences no longer get good time or gain time, they get earned time (which you can read about here). Second, as discussed above, G.S. 14-72.1 no longer sets out mandatory minimums periods of […]

  35. My son James Marslender got 12 to 15 years second read murder he had an accident that killed his son because he had a couple beers he’s in prison never did anything wrong Allison citizen hard-working been in six years any information for me

  36. That is crazy. 15 years! I know this girl who was in the same situation and she had no license and she’s working at dunkin donuts right now. He should appeal and use her case to show the law is not fair.

  37. I dont know if this the right place to ask but ive been trying to figure out my husbands release date he got 16 months but had 198 jail credits. He got to prison on 11/14/17 and hes still in the reception .What would be his release date

  38. Hello my nephew Is In prison he was sentenced to a year he was supposed come home In Dec, but instead they gave him other year he won’t be home til September 2018…he was also out In Solitary Confinement he did not fight back… how much more punishment are they going to give him he Is already In jail that should be enough punishment . He was also working and they dismissed him from work because his mother went to see him and the sensor went off It was because she was on a medication so she read positive .My question Is what can we do to get him out of the prison and put him In a program or send him home ..Thank you . Bev

  39. My husband got sentenced to 22 t0 36 months in prison how much of that time will he have to serve.

  40. My boyfriend has been incarcerated since 2016 and was given a 7 year sentence for Possession of ammunition by a felon in North Carolina. Can he use any of that you mentioned above to get out early. He has done 3 years already.