Criminal Law

What Is "Good Behavior" In Prison?

Key Takeaways:

  • Federal law defines good behavior as “exemplary compliance with the institutional disciplinary regulations.”
  • Put simply, good behavior time credit is available for individuals serving a sentence in federal prison.
  • Demonstrating good behavior generally means following the prison rules.

​It can be difficult for an inmate to follow all the rules and participate in programs while imprisoned. One of the ways jails and prisons keep prisoners participating is to reward them with benefits for “good behavior.” Good behavior generally means following the rules and not getting in trouble. Good behavior credit can actually reduce the sentence by up to 54 days every year in some jurisdictions.

Good time credit is available for individuals serving a sentence in federal prison. Many states have a similar policy. Understanding the good behavior policies and figuring out how to follow the rules can make a big difference in how you can get out of jail early. Reach out to an attorney as soon as possible to learn options and next steps. 

Good Conduct Time in Prison

Under federal law, good behavior is referred to as, “exemplary compliance with the institutional disciplinary regulations.” When prisoners demonstrate good behavior, they earn good time credit, which reduces the prisoner’s actual time in custody. This accumulates each year and allows for early release, reducing the overall prison sentence.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b), a prisoner who is serving more than a year in prison can receive credit toward service of the sentence of up to 54 days at the end of each year. It is up to the prison to determine whether the prisoner has displayed exemplary compliance with the institutional disciplinary regulations.

How Do You Show Good Behavior?

Demonstrating good behavior generally means following the prison rules. There are a lot of rules, regulations, restrictions, and policies in prison, and a prisoner may not even know they are breaking a rule until they are accused of doing so. Compliance with the institutional regulations may include:

  • Following orders of the guards
  • Staying out of trouble
  • Avoiding fights
  • Not using or getting caught with drugs or contraband
  • Completing job assignments

There are other ways to earn time off for good behavior besides just following orders. Pursuing education and participating in counseling can also count towards good behavior credit. Education may include pursuing an adult literacy program, GED, or high school diploma. Substance abuse education and anger management counseling can also be considered in good behavior credits.

How Much Good Time Conduct Can Prisoners Get?

There is generally a maximum amount of good time credit each prisoner can get every year. For federal inmates, if the prisoner is pursuing an educational program like a GED or high school diploma, the individual can get the maximum of 54 days of good time credit each year. The First Step Act (FSA) of 2018 made qualifying inmates eligible for up to 54 days of good conduct time for each year of the sentence imposed.

Eligible for Parole With Good Conduct

Good behavior credit can shorten a prisoner’s time behind bars by reducing their sentence based on a specific formula. Early release on good behavior is not automatic, but it may help. Early release for good conduct credit and parole are different but they both benefit from following the rules while incarcerated.

Parole is generally discretionary and left up to the parole board. Some prisoners are not eligible for parole. Once a prisoner becomes eligible for parole, the parole board may review their case to decide whether or not to grant supervised release. One of the factors the parole board considers is “institutional behavior.” Institutional behavior is used to help the board may decisions about:

  • Risks of future crimes
  • Risks of danger to the community
  • Prognosis of supervision
  • Likelihood of rehabilitation

Unfortunately, good behavior and participation in treatment and education do not guarantee parole. Instead, parole boards may be more likely to weigh bad behavior and noncompliance with the institutional rules when denying parole.

Who Is Eligible for Good Behavior Credit?

In general, any federal prisoner serving a term of imprisonment of more than one year is eligible to earn good behavior credit. A defendant sentenced to exactly one year would not be eligible for good behavior credit. A judge may impose a sentence of one year and one day so that the inmate will be eligible for good behavior credits, and could serve less than a year.

Good behavior time is also not available to those serving a sentence of life in prison. Eligibility for good behavior for state prisoners may depend on the state’s policies.

Can I Lose Good Behavior Time?

A prisoner can lose good behavior time. In general, good behavior credit is calculated each year. Anytime during the year, the prison officers may take away part of good time credit. After the end of the year, when the time is vested, the credit usually is a permanent reduction in sentence. However, there are situations where years of accumulated time may be reduced, such as a riot, or where the prison finds out about misconduct in prior years.

It is best to consult with an attorney to learn the latest approaches in ensuring your good behavior time is accounted for. 

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