Guidelines for Credits for Time Served in Jail or Prison

The California Legislature and Governor Schwartzenegger last year approved a new law - SBX3 18 - that increases the amount of time inmates in county jail or state prison can earn toward early release. This law amends a previously existing law that for over 30 years has allowed inmates who meet good behavior requirements to earn credits toward early release.

SBX3 18 Changes Existing Formula for Credits for Good BehaviorBefore the new law went into effect on January 25, 2010, jail and prison inmates who met good behavior standards were able to earn credits toward a reduction in their sentences at the rate of one day for every two days served. What this meant was that someone serving a 60 day sentence could be released from jail after 40 days, since those 40 days with good behavior earned him 20 days of credit.

SBX3 18 merely changed the formula to one day of credit for each day served with good behavior. Thus, someone serving a 60 day sentence could be released after 30 days, since the 30 days of good behavior earned him 30 days of credit. Credit for good behavior serves two important purposes: it gives inmates an incentive to behave well, and it reduces the number of inmates at a time when jails and prisons are overcrowded.

County Jail v. State PrisonThere is no question that the new law applies to state prison inmates. There is controversy, however, over whether it applies to county jail inmates. Some counties, such as Los Angeles, assert that the law was not intended to apply to jails. Officials in local counties - including Sacramento, Yolo, Placer, and El Dorado - have taken the position that SBX3 18 does apply to jail inmates and are granting the additional credits.

The state Attorney General's Office has issued an advisory to local law enforcement agencies stating that the new law does apply to county jail inmates. The California legislature recognizes the need to clarify the issue. However, some legislators are supporting legislation that includes jail inmates in the new formula while other legislators are supporting legislation that excluded jail inmates.

Sacramento CountyThe situation in Sacramento County is more complicated, however, because while Sacramento County Sheriff officials who oversee the jail are granting the additional credits, the union for the Sacramento sheriff's deputies has asked a Sacramento Superior Court judge to block implementation of the new law. That judge's most recent ruling is that inmates must earn credits according to the new formula of one day credit for each day served after the new law went into effect January 25. The old formula applies to time served before that date.

This is a complicated and ever-changing topic. If you have questions, call Nancy King at (916) 442-1200 for a free and confidential consultation.