Supreme Court justices yesterday wrestled with the standard for calculating good-time credits for federal prison sentences, reports Law.com. The issue is the interpretation of a “term of imprisonment” under the federal good-time credit statute. Federal inmates argue that they should be eligible for the statutory 54 days of good-time credit for each year of their entire sentence as originally imposed. The Bureau of Prisons contends that the calculation of good-time credit is based only on time actually served by the prisoner.
Stephen Sady, an Oregon public defender representing inmates, argued that the government’s interpretation of the statute would short-change the prisoners’ opportunity to earn good-time credits, unfairly lengthening their sentences. Assistant to the Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall told the justices that the petitioners’ method of calculating a year of imprisonment, subtracting the 54 days of credit, wrongly creates a 311-day cycle for good-time credit eligibility. Justice Stephen Breyer expressed concern about awarding good-time credit for what he termed “phantom time” — time sentenced but not actually served. Justice John Paul Stevens seemed concerned about the implications of the government’s position, telling Wall: “You say there are 195,000 sentences affected by this rule. I don’t know which way that cuts. If there are 195,000 people spending  significantly more time in jail than they should, that’s kind of troublesome.”