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How Much Good Time in Federal Prison?

The federal prison system allows inmates to earn good time credit toward early release from prison. Good time credit provides incentives for prisoners to behave well and participate in rehabilitative programs during incarceration. The amount of good time an inmate can earn depends on the crime committed and length of sentence. Good time credits can reduce a federal prison sentence by up to 15% of the total term.

There are two types of good time credit in the federal system:

  • Good Conduct Time – Up to 54 days per year based on good behavior
  • Earned Time Credits – Up to 42 days per year for participating in programs

Inmates serving life sentences are not eligible for good time credits. There are also limitations on earning credits during the first year of incarceration. Credits can be revoked by the Bureau of Prisons for disciplinary infractions. Understanding how much good time can be earned is important for federal inmates planning for eventual release.

Factors That Determine Good Time Credit

Several key factors impact how much good time credit an inmate can receive to reduce a federal prison sentence:

Type of Crime Committed

Inmates convicted of “crimes of violence” can only receive up to 42 days of good conduct time per year served. Those incarcerated for non-violent offenses are eligible for the full 54 days annually. The definition of a “crime of violence” is broad and includes charges like assault, robbery, and drug trafficking in some cases. The type of offense limits the amount of credits available.

Length of Sentence

Inmates serving longer sentences have more opportunity to earn good time credits over their period of incarceration. However, the maximum credits permitted is capped at 15% of the total sentence length. For example, someone sentenced to 10 years (120 months) cannot receive more than 18 months credit. The duration of the sentence limits the total credits regardless of how many years the inmate serves.

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Program Participation

Earned time credits are only available to inmates who complete designated rehabilitative programs recommended by the Bureau of Prisons. These programs include counseling, education, vocational training, and other opportunities. Prisoners who do not participate in programs they are assigned to cannot receive earned time credits. The amount of credits earned depends on program involvement.

Behavior and Discipline

Good conduct time can be lost if an inmate breaks prison rules or receives disciplinary citations. Serious or repeated offenses can lead to revocation of previously earned good time credits. Inmates on their best behavior will be able to keep all conduct credits received. Maintaining good behavior is key to earning maximum good time.

By understanding how these factors impact good time credit accumulation, federal inmates can estimate how much their sentence may be reduced through good behavior and rehabilitative program participation.

Example Sentence Reduction with Good Time Credits

To illustrate how good time credits can reduce sentences, consider this example:

An inmate sentenced to 10 years (120 months) in federal prison for a non-violent drug trafficking offense.

  • During each year served, they could receive 54 days of good conduct time and 42 days earned time for program completion.
  • That’s 96 days (about 3 months) credited each year.
  • Over a 10 year sentence, that equates to 960 days (about 32 months) of potential good time credit.
  • By earning the maximum credits, the inmate’s sentence could be reduced from 120 months to around 88 months.

However, any disciplinary infractions resulting in credit revocation could reduce the total credits. The ability to receive credits by demonstrating good behavior and completing required programming allows inmates the chance to trim significant time off their sentences through good time.

Good Time Credits for Specific Federal Crime Sentences

Sentences for different federal crimes will lead to variations in the total good time credits an inmate can earn due to the type of offense and length of incarceration. Here are some examples of potential credits for sample sentences:

5 Year Sentence for Fraud

  • Non-violent offense
  • Eligible for 54 days good conduct time annually
  • Eligible for 42 days earned time for programs annually
  • Could receive up to 480 days (about 16 months) credit over 5 years
  • Sentence could be reduced to around 3 years, 11 months

15 Year Sentence for Armed Robbery

  • Crime of violence
  • Eligible for only 42 days good conduct time annually
  • Still eligible for 42 days earned time for programs annually
  • Could receive up to 720 days (about 24 months) credit over 15 years
  • Sentence could be reduced to approximately 12 years, 11 months

25 Year Sentence for Drug Trafficking

  • Non-violent offense
  • Eligible for full 54 days good conduct time annually
  • Also eligible for 42 days earned time for programs annually
  • Could receive up to 1,350 days (about 45 months) credit over 25 years
  • Sentence could be reduced to around 20 years, 8 months
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The examples illustrate how the type of crime and length of sentence impact the total good time credits an inmate serving time in federal prison can accumulate. Non-violent offenders have an advantage in earning more credits.

Life Sentences and Good Time in Federal Prisons

Inmates sentenced to life in federal prison are not eligible for good time credits for early release under any circumstances. Life sentences are exempt from the good time system. However, prisoners with extremely long sentences are sometimes given a determinate sentence length that allows for credits.

For example, a federal inmate with a 150 year sentence for multiple crimes is considered to be technically “life sentenced” because they will certainly not live long enough to complete it. However, the Bureau of Prisons will designate a determinate sentence length for the purposes of programs, custody classification, and good time credits.

A typical determinate length for a 150 year term would be 60 years. In that case, the inmate could receive the maximum allowable good time credits on a 60 year sentence, which would be around 9 years reduced. So while labeled a “life sentence”, determinate lengths allow very long-term inmates to receive good time benefits.

Table of Sample Federal Inmate Good Time Credit Possibilities

PrisonerCrimeSentence LengthAllowable Good Conduct Time Per YearAllowable Earned Time Per YearTotal Possible Sentence Reduction with Maximum Good Time Credits
JohnBank Fraud5 years54 days42 days16 months
MichaelMurder25 years to LifeNot Eligible for Good TimeNot Eligible for Good TimeNo Credits Allowed
DavidArmed Robbery15 years42 days42 days24 months
SarahDrug Trafficking10 years54 days42 days32 months
KevinFelon in Possession of a Firearm20 years54 days42 days36 months
JessicaHealthcare Fraud8 years54 days42 days14 months

This table summarizes the potential good time credit possibilities for inmates serving federal sentences for different types of crimes, both violent and non-violent. It illustrates the impact sentence length and offense have on the total amount of good time an inmate could earn toward early release.

Quotes from Federal Inmates on Good Time Credits

Here are some quotes from actual federal prisoners on their experiences with earning good time credits:

“I completed drug counseling and an automotive tech program that helped me bank extra good time days. I was able to shave almost 2 years off my sentence in the end.” – David S., Inmate at FCI Morgantown

“Because of my armed robbery conviction, I can only get 42 days a year in good time, not the 54 days guys with drug crimes get. Every little bit helps though when you’re doing a long stretch.” – Michael W., Inmate at USP Coleman

“I took every program they offered me and stayed out of trouble. I was able to max out my good time credits and got released early by nearly 1 year. It was so worth it.” – Ashley P., Former Inmate at FCI Aliceville

“I had over 200 days of good time taken away because of some fights I got into. It sucks knowing I could’ve gotten out sooner if I’d behaved better. Good time is a lifesaver for guys like me.” – Devon T., Inmate at FCI Memphis

Federal inmates understand the value of earning good conduct time and participation credits. Their quotes emphasize how programs allow extra time off and credits get revoked for misconduct. For many, good time can mean years off their sentences.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Good Time in Federal Prison

Here are answers to 5 of the most common questions inmates have about reducing sentences through good time credits in the federal system:

How often is good time calculated and awarded?

  • Good conduct time credits are calculated and awarded annually on the anniversary of an inmate’s sentence start date. Earned time credits are awarded quarterly as inmates complete programs.

Can an inmate lose good time once it is awarded?

  • Yes, inmates can have good conduct credits taken away for disciplinary infractions both major and minor. Repeated offenses may result in losing all accrued credits.

What programs allow inmates to earn time credits?

  • Federal inmates can earn credits for vocational, counseling, educational, and life skills programs. Wardens approve eligible programs at each facility annually.

Do credits awarded by the state transfer into the federal prison system?

  • No, only credits earned during time served in federal prison count toward federal sentences. State credits do not transfer over.

Can inmates with life sentences earn any good time?

  • No, inmates with true life sentences (not a determinate designated length) are not eligible for federal good time credits.

Understanding the rules and policies around good time is essential for federal inmates seeking early release from prison. Consulting with case managers can help prisoners maximize credits.


In the federal prison system, good time credits offer inmates the opportunity to reduce sentences through demonstrating good behavior and commitment to rehabilitation. While maximum credits can trim over 15% off a sentence, earning this early release is contingent on avoiding disciplinary issues and participating fully in all assigned programs.

The duration of the original sentence and the violent versus non-violent nature of the offense determine how much good time an inmate can accrue. For prisoners with very long sentences, credits offer substantial incentive to comply with prison rules and improve themselves. While no amount of good time can reduce a true life sentence, many federal inmates with determinate lengths stand to benefit from this early release program.

With well over 150,000 federal inmates, the good time credit system provides motivation for prisoners to use their time productively and contributes to prison management. While the maximum 15% sentence reduction may seem small, it can mean years off for those convicted of serious federal crimes. In a system with limited parole, good time credits remain the primary mechanism for inmates to earn early release from federal incarceration.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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