New York Good Time and Merit Credits

One of the more sweeping reforms brought by the FIRST STEP Act was a change to the way good time credits are calculated – the amount of time off of an inmate’s sentence provided for good behavior while incarcerated – and unlike many of the other reforms brought by the FIRST STEP Act, this change provides retroactive relief to those already incarcerated. Additionally, the Act introduced a new way to reduce one’s sentence while incarcerated: merit credits which are earned by completing recidivism reduction classes and other similar activities. In this way, the federal prison system is further reformed by seeking to reduce recidivism of federal inmates.

Specifically, prior to the passage of the FIRST STEP Act, inmates serving prison sentences of at least one year and one day received 47 days per year of good time credit towards their release, assuming he or she “has displayed exemplary compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations.” See 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b). The Bureau of Prisons’ Designation and Sentence Computation Center in Grand Prairie, Texas solely makes this determination – and for inmates who have “not satisfactorily complied with … institutional regulations,” the BOP may withhold some or all of these credits. Id. If a prisoner disagrees with the amount of good time credits that he or she has received, internal administrative remedies must be pursued prior to the filing of a lawsuit with a federal court.

While the law never provided for 47 days per year of good time credit – it has always been set at 54 days per year by statute – the BOP used a bizarre calculation that resulted in the lower number’s usage until the passage of the Act. The Act restored the 54 days of good time credit and applied it retroactively from the date of the inmate’s initial commitment, resulting in immediate sentence reductions for nearly every federal inmate.

Another reform brought by the FIRST STEP Act was the introduction of merit credits for completing recidivism reduction classes and other activities while incarcerated. While the details of these programs are still being determined, the Act provided the broad strokes for the Department of Justice to fill in, specifically, that a risk and needs assessment system be created which provides 10 days off of a prison sentence for every 30 days spent in a recidivism reduction program – and 15 days off of sentences for each 30 days in a program for inmates already deemed by the needs assessment system to be at low risk of recidivism.

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