Ask the County Law Librarian – 65 Percent Law for Prison Terms
Q: My husband is serving time in state prison. He has served almost 6 years of a 10 year sentence. I just heard about a new law that lets prisoners be released for good behavior after serving 65% of their sentence. What do we have to do to get him released when he gets to 65%? Thanks, Jeanette
A: Hi Jeanette,
We’ve had people ask us about the “65% law” before. It turns out there is no such law in California. The confusion is natural, however. California’s law on good conduct credits is complicated and has changed many times over the past years.
Generally speaking, inmates who are serving time for non-violent felonies can earn up to 50% credit for good conduct and work time, and inmates serving time for violent felonies or certain sex crimes are limited to 15% credit (serving at least 85% of their sentence). Defendants with one prior strike are limited to 20% credit (80% of their sentence), and defendants convicted of murder or defendants who have two prior strikes are not eligible for good conduct or work time credit at all.
As if that isn’t complicated enough, there’s more. The laws have been amended numerous times. Any individual defendant’s sentence can be affected by the types of crimes committed, the date the crimes were committed, and prior strikes. Prisoners may also be eligible for some credit for completing milestones in academic or vocational training; anger management, substance abuse, and life skills classes; or for heroic acts in life-threatening situations. Prisoners with convictions for both violent and non-violent felonies may have the 15% limitation applied to part of their sentences, and the 50% limitation to the rest.
With the recent “Realignment” changes due to the budget crisis, it has become even more complicated – many felons are being shifted to county jails. Not only are the rules for time served in county jail different than for state prison, those rules recently changed, as well. Good conduct credit may also be expanded to help comply with the federal court order that California release prisoners to relieve overcrowding.
Figuring out exactly how much credit a prisoner is eligible can be tricky and probably merits discussion with an attorney.
So the applicable percentages are 50%, 80%, or 85%, depending. Where, then, does the 65% rumor come from? It is not from California at all – it’s for federal prisons. The federal minimum mandatory percentage is 85% 85% (18 U.S.C. § 3624(b)).
A number of bills have been introduced in Congress to reduce that to 65%, but none of them have passed, and right now, there is no bill pending. That’s probably where the 65% law rumor got started. You can read more about the federal efforts at Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email email@example.com. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.