An argument in favor of good-time reform

Good-time needs to be desired — it needs to be a tangible possibility for inmates while simultaneously being hard to acquire


Corrections — in its entirety — is not a problem area that is specifically designated or tailored for any federal, state, county, or local municipality. In contemporary times, I believe it is valid to postulate that overcrowding, understaffing, budget cuts, recidivism, and a plethora of other social, criminogenic, and structural issues plague corrections. To me, corrections has evolved into a perilous entity that remains hidden from the public view, tactfully removed from society up until negative publicity rears its ugly head and shines light onto only negative aspects and exploits. 

“Fixing” corrections is undoubtedly a feat not to be taken lightly. Some may argue that there is no remedy and that there is no point in attempting to mend/improve the system. I wholeheartedly disagree with that notion and believe that the effort must be made to invoke positivity — there is always room for improvement. 

With this being said, it is safe to assume that there will be a wave of skepticism targeting the obvious broadness of this topic. The skepticism is welcomed and necessary. Corrections is multifaceted, encompassing sociological, criminological, and economic factors. Trying to attack all of these factors at once would not be practical. Instead, I believe that we need to isolate factors to the best of our collective ability in order to discuss possible solutions/improvements. One crucial factor I have encountered repeatedly — through both research and experience — is “good-time.” Good-time is not a term that most civilians are familiar with — it is a term almost exclusively utilized by corrections and other law enforcement professionals. This article will examine good-time and explore possible pitfalls with the current system. 

Inappropriate Use
According to Demleitner (2009), the good-time mechanism of early release predates parole. In 1875, the Federal government implemented good-time laws and these laws were designed to be a tool for wardens and, in theory, were supposed to be implemented as a reward for good behavior. Eventually, good-time was instead applied with negligent effort and became an automatic process as opposed to an earned reward (Demleitner, 2009).

Inmates grew to be expectant of good-time and, more often than not, good-time was used as a punishment (as it was withheld from inmates who behaved poorly) as opposed to reward (Demleitner, 2009). As it is used now, good-time simply allows for inmates to exit prison early regardless of their respective affects, behaviors, or overall conduct. 

In my interview with a classification supervisor, I was advised that a large segment of the inmate population take classes and programs not for the development of skills/attitude, but in order to be released from incarceration at an earlier time. Furthermore, it was articulated to me that good-time, as an all-inclusive ideal, is largely utilized for the releasing of inmates in order to create bed space. 

From my experience, a seasoned convict can estimate his/her sentence with extreme accuracy based upon their knowledge of the good-time system. As a probation and parole officer, I have seen offenders calculate their respective sentences almost to the day including good-time accrual. For all intents and purposes, good-time is comparable to an auto-draft system in which an inmate can receive days off of his/her sentence for merely existing. It seems evident that good-time has been transformed from a control mechanism to a tool utilized singularly as a way to manage overcrowding. 

Among many things, I am a proponent of good-time reform. I favor the crime-control model in this regard which, according to Findley (2008), is a system in which preference is given to the repression of crime. Findley promulgates that in the crime-control model, emphasis is given to the securing of appropriate dispositions of individuals convicted of criminal activities. For the offenders that are violent and unrelenting in their criminality, punitive measures must be operationalized for the sake of society. 

To put it rudimentarily, I believe that good-time needs to be desired — it needs to be a tangible possibility for inmates while simultaneously being hard to acquire. Disbursing good-time credits frivolously, to me, is simply sending offenders back to their coveted lifestyle at a quicker rate and recidivism rates do not typically decrease. 

By making good-time an earned reward, focusing on inmates’ respective participation efforts, behaviors, and attitudes, perhaps we can reintroduce B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning, thus making behavior be controlled through both positive and negative consequences (Mazur, 2002). Good-time reform is not an end-all be-all, but I do believe that it is an integral piece of the puzzle. 

Works Cited
Demleitner, N. V. (2009). Good Conduct Time: How Much and for Whom-the Unprincipled Approach of the Model Penal Code: Sentencing. Fla. L. Rev., 61, 777.

Findley, K. A. (2008). Toward a New Paradigm of Criminal Justice: How the Innocence Movement Mergers Crime Control and Due Process. Tex. Tech L. Rev., 41, 133.

Mazur, J. E. (2002). Learning and behavior . Prentice Hall/Pearson Education.

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