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March 30, 2010
10:59 AM

FAMM Urges Supreme Court to Correct "Good Time" Calculation

WASHINGTON - March 30 - The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a challenge to the Bureau of Prison's method for calculating "good time" credit for federal prisoners.  Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) filed an amicus brief in the case, Barber v. Thomas, and FAMM Vice President and General Counsel Mary Price will attend the oral argument and be available to comment and answer questions after the proceeding.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and others have argued for years that the BOP's "good time" calculation is in conflict with federal law.  In January, FAMM joined with several other non-governmental organizations to file an amicus brief in the Barber case to urge the high court to invalidate the BOP's current method calculation.

Federal law (18 U.S.C. § 3624(b)) instructs the BOP to award a sentence reduction of "up to 54 days at the end of each year of the prisoner's term of imprisonment."  FAMM has argued that the phrase "term of imprisonment" means the sentence imposed, and that any credit should be applied to the full sentence.  Accordingly, a 10-year sentence should generate 540 days of good time credit.

In contrast, the BOP has interpreted "term of imprisonment" to mean time served, and refused to apply the credit to the sentence beyond the time served. Thus, BOP awards seven days of credit for every year of the imposed sentence, or only 470 days credit on a 10-year sentence. The difference between these calculations for a federal prisoner serving a 10-year sentence is 70 days.

"For a family with a loved one behind bars, two-plus months is a significant amount of time," said Mary Price. "Spending days, weeks and months behind bars that Congress did not authorize is seen by prisoners as profoundly unjust. We agree.  It is  hard to imagine how an agency's misreading of a statute could have a bigger impact on real lives than occurs every day in this situation."

FAMM joined a number of organizations, including the National Association of Federal Defenders, the ACLU Prisoner Rights' Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in filing a brief supporting the petitioner.  The brief, authored by Jeffery T. Green and Peter Pfaffenroth of the law firm, Sidley & Austin, can be downloaded here

In it, we explain why the statute that provides for good time credits clearly requires the BOP to award a full 54 days of credit per year of sentence to qualified prisoners.  It also explains that if the Supreme Court does not think the statute is so clear, it should use a device used by the courts, called the rule of lenity, to settle any confusion in favor of the prisoner.

For more information about the good time credit, please download FAMM's "Frequently Asked Questions About Federal Good Time Credit"




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