“Good Time” Laws Don’t Mean That Inmates Were Freed “Early”


“Journalists, judges, prosecutors and lawmakers ought to start putting much more emphasis at sentencing on the time that a convict is expected to serve, and downplaying the gaudy, higher number that leads to … after-the-fact bleating,” says Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn. The context is tragic: 9-year-old Antonio Smith, of Chicago, was shot to death allegedly by a man who’d just been released from prison after serving only half of a 42-month sentence for felony possession of a firearm by a gang member. Derrick Allmon, 19, was free because he’d received day-for-day credit for good behavior as an inmate, even though prison officials had written him up for 17 disciplinary violations during his stay.

Allmon “should not have been on the street to commit this murder,” said Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. “It didn’t have to happen.” But Allmon did have to be out of prison, Zorn says. Good-time credit isn’t the whim of softhearted wardens or lenient judges but a state law. Under that law, murderers serve 100 percent of their sentences, many violent criminals serve 85 percent of their sentences and all others serve 50 percent, assuming “good-time” credit. Allmon wasn’t let out “early.” He was let out exactly when the prosecutors and the courts expected he would be let out on the day he was sentenced.

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