State law mandates ‘Good time’

Judges issuing sentences can’t disallow it

Judge Greg Galler
Guest Columnist

People sometimes express frustration about the concept of “good time” in criminal sentences. They want to know, “how can it be that someone who behaved badly enough to commit a crime is rewarded with good time?”

As with most aspects of sentencing, good time is mandated by state law. The sentencing judge cannot disallow it.

So what is good time?

Good time is a portion of a sentence that is not served because the person behaved well enough — while serving the sentence — that it was not taken away.  Good time is only lost by violating institutional or program rules to the extent that formal action is taken (typically by the jail or prison) to deny it.

A defendant who disputes the loss of good time is entitled to a contested hearing to determine the matter.

For most sentences, the general rule is that good time is equal to one-third of the imposed sentence. Accordingly, a 30-day jail sentence really means serving 20 actual days in jail.

The math remains the same regardless of the length of the sentence. A 90-day sentence is completed in 60 actual days.  A person sent to prison for 10 years (120 months) actually serves six years and eight months (80 months).

Good time also applies to alternative ways of serving jail time. Some judges allow certain defendants to serve jail time in a form of “house arrest.”

This program, known as Electronic Home Monitoring, allows good time of roughly one-fifth (20 percent) of the overall sentence. Accordingly, a 30-day sentence is satisfied in 24 days on home monitoring.

Other defendants serve their sentences on Sentence to Service work crews.  There are two methods for serving time on STS.  Both do the same work.

The difference depends on where the defendant sleeps at night. Some defendants work during the day and stay in the jail at night. This is called the “in-custody” STS program.

Other defendants work on the same crew during the day but go home for the evening. This is the “out-of-custody” STS program.

Sleeping in jail obviously deprives a person of more liberty than sleeping at home. Accordingly, good time is earned at different rates.

Out-of-custody defendants earn good time at the same rate as those on the home monitor – 20 percent.

In-custody defendants earn one additional day off of their sentence for every day they work on a crew. They also earn the statutory good time of one-third off of their entire sentence (whether working or not). As scheduling issues prevent working every single day, a defendant with a 30-day STS in-custody sentence would typically serve 12 to 14 actual days.

This returns us to the basic question, “Why is there good time?” As a matter of public policy, lawmakers in some states wanted to encourage people to better behave themselves while in custody.

Other jurisdictions do not allow good time.

In either case, judges are required to follow whatever law exists in their jurisdiction regarding good time.

Judge Galler is chambered in Washington County. If you have a general question about the law or courts for the judge, send your question to the editor of this newspaper. Learn more about Judge Galler, or listen to a podcast of his columns at