How Is Good Behavior Measured in Prison

prison good behaviorGood behavior in a Wisconsin state or federal prison means following the penal system’s rules and regulations. Any disciplinary action or formal rule violation will interfere with a prisoner’s attempts to secure an early release based on good behavior.

When applicable, the law gives credit for good behavior to any inmate that adheres to all prison directives and consistently stays out of trouble. An utterly uneventful day is a good day in prison. Obeying the rules and staying out of altercations with fellow inmates will usually result in good time credit eligibility.

How Does an Inmate Exhibit Good Behavior

Exhibiting good behavior means following all prison rules, regulations, restrictions, and policies. Compliance and other indicators of good behavior may include:

  • Avoiding disciplinary action
  • Following correctional officers’ directions
  • Avoiding physical altercations with other prisoners
  • Not using drugs or possessing illegal contraband
  • Working and completing other tasks diligently
  • Pursuing education and other self-improvement programs
  • Participating in counseling
  • Participating in programs that benefit the overall prison population
  • Using time constructively,
  • Engaging consistently in positive activities

In Wisconsin, violating rules or not performing required duties can add 10-40 days to an inmate’s mandatory release date.

Good Behavior in Wisconsin Prisons

Unlike most states, Wisconsin does not recognize good behavior as an available factor that can reduce the term of a sentence in a Wisconsin state prison. As a result, individuals in Wisconsin who exhibit good behavior while incarcerated receive no credit toward an accelerated release.

In the past, Wisconsin offered a “good time” program to reduce sentences but eliminated it several decades ago. However, there is a current national trend to reinstitute good behavior credits within state penal systems in the United States.

Wisconsin law requires courts to issue bifurcated sentences for misdemeanor and felony convictions. A bifurcated sentence consists of a term of confinement in prison followed by a term of extended supervision.

With little to no possibility of early release, inmates in Wisconsin prisons can expect to serve 100 percent of their sentence and an additional mandatory period of community supervision. However, some inmates in Wisconsin prisons may reduce their periods of confinement by:

  • Participating in the Earned Release Program
  • Participating in the Challenge Incarceration Program

The Earned Release Program applies to individuals with substance abuse problems. The Challenge Incarceration Program consists of extensive physical exercise, manual labor, personal development counseling, substance abuse treatment, and other activities in preparation for release on parole or extended supervision. The Challenge Incarceration Program allows participants to earn reduced prison sentences.

Good Behavior in Federal Prisons

There is one stand-alone federal prison and one federal prison camp in Wisconsin. The First Step Act, federal legislation signed into law in 2018, provides earned time credits for federal prisoners housed in a Wisconsin facility. Generally, any person sentenced to serve more than one year in federal prison can earn good time credits.

Under federal law, good behavior refers to “exemplary compliance with the institutional disciplinary regulations.” Demonstrating good behavior means inmates can earn good time credit that reduces the prisoner’s time incarcerated. Earned time credits only apply after a conviction.

Defendants cannot earn these credits for any good time accumulated before conviction. These good time credits accumulate annually and help inmates secure an early release from federal prison. For every year of imprisonment, prisoners can earn up to 54 days of credit.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons distinguishes First Step Act programs into two categories: Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction Programs (EBBR) and Productive Activities. Both categories allow inmates to earn credits toward reducing the time from their sentences. Most violent offenses, such as homicide, automatically disqualify an offender from participating in these programs.

Once inmates accrue 30 days of qualifying programming activities, they reduce their sentences by 10 to 15 days. These programs allow inmates to accumulate days that reduce their sentences instead of receiving the usual 15 percent sentence reduction for good conduct.

Good Time in Wisconsin County Jails

Inmates in county jails can earn good time equal to one-fourth of their term for good behavior if sentenced to at least four days. For example, a person sentenced by the judge to serve 80 days in jail will serve 60 days. In computing this time, any calculations of good time ignore fractions of a day.

Contact an Experienced Milwaukee Criminal Defense Attorney

The Milwaukee criminal defense attorneys at Hart Powell, S.C. dedicate themselves to asserting and defending the rights of their clients charged in federal and state criminal matters. Call Hart Powell, S.C. at (414) 271-9595 to speak to a qualified, knowledgeable, and experienced criminal defense attorney.

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Written by Michael Hart & Craig Powell

Last Updated : April 27, 2023