In a ruling affecting the terms of nearly 200,000 federal inmates, the Supreme Court yesterday adopted a formula for calculating “good time credit” for good behavior that results in more time served, the National Law Journal reports. The court by a 6-3 vote endorsed a long-standing Bureau of Prisons method of calculating good time credit based on the length of time actually served, not the length of the term imposed by the sentencing judge. As Justice Stephen Breyer described it, the formula would result in 470 days of credit for a well-behaved prisoner serving a 10-year sentence, while the method urged by defendants would result in 540 days of credit.
That may not sound like much, but dissenter Anthony Kennedy said the ruling will add “tens of thousands of years” collectively to time served, at a “cost to taxpayers of untold millions of dollars.” In human terms, Kennedy added, the ruling will be “devastating to the prisoners who have behaved the best.” Kennedy has argued in speeches off the bench that American prison terms are too long and punishments are too severe. Joining Kennedy John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who emphasized during confirmation hearings that she disagreed with President Barack Obama’s “empathy standard” for new justices, voted with the majority against defendants in the case. Mary Price of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said “we will continue to overincarcerate many, many people.”