Unlike most other states, Wisconsin does not recognize prisoners’ good behavior with credits toward accelerated release. Wisconsin had such a “good time” program for well over a century, but eliminated it as part of the policy changes in the 1980s and 1990s that collectively left the state unusually — perhaps even uniquely — inflexible in its terms of imprisonment. I’ve been researching the history of good time in Wisconsin in connection with a forthcoming law review article.
Wisconsin adopted its first good time law in 1860, which placed it among the first states to embrace this new device for improving prison discipline. Twenty years later, in 1880, the Legislature expanded good time and restructured the program in the form it would retain for about a century. In the first year of imprisonment, an inmate could earn one month’s credit for good behavior; in the second, two months; in the third, three; and so forth. Credits maxed out at six months per year. A model prisoner with a ten-year term, for instance, might earn enough credits to knock off two years or more from the time served.
In Wisconsin and elsewhere, good time has had a distinct history, structure, and purpose from parole. (more…)