Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Good Time versus Smart Time

Governors around the country are struggling with ever tightening budgets and ever expanding prison costs. Michigan is looking to reinstate "good time" to help save money. "Good time" rewards inmates who have not misbehaved in prison. In Michigan, an inmate would receive five-days credit for each misconduct free month in the first two-years and gradually increases over time.

"Good time" was phased-out over a period of twenty-years, beginning in 1978. According to the Detroit Free-Press, bringing back "good time" will be daunting. Michigan voters overwhelmingly voted to repeal "good time" in 1978 and 75-percent of the legislature would have to vote in favor of reinstating "good time."

Does "good time" increase recidivism? In 2003, the Washington Legislature increased earned time from a maximum of 33 percent to 50 percent for eligible nonviolent offenders. The Oregonian reported that the Washington State Institute for Public Policy analyzed the impact of the changes. The institute reported that the law has been effective: criminal recidivism has not increased and taxpayer costs are lower. There was no statistically significant effect on violent criminal recidivism, but a statistically significant decrease for nonviolent crimes. Overall, 39 percent of offenders released under the new law were convicted of a new felony within three years compared with 42-percent under the prior statute.

My Take

The flaw with "good time" is that it rewards only good behavior. A component of "good time" should include successful completion of treatment. An inmate who merely has good conduct without any intervention is really no different than when he entered prison. "Good time" would be more effective if it included treatment and education making it "smart time" not just "good time."

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