The criminal justice system punishes wrongdoers for their crimes. Equally as important, the objective behind incarcerating felons revolves around making them better people that will not commit the same offenses in the future. Because of this, currently housed inmates might walk out free or successfully reduce their sentence after they demonstrate good behavior. Prisoners who are guilty of all types of felony examples are eligible, with only a few exceptions.
This process is confusing, though. Every state has its own rules and felony classifications that determine if inmates can reduce their sentences. Similarly, you can walk out of prison early or avoid time behind bars entirely. Yet the different options might make it difficult to define which one applies to your situation.
Having said all that, not all crimes are equal. First-time felons, especially if they are nonviolent offenders, could receive probation instead of incarceration. Just as importantly, multi-time felons may reduce their spell in prison when they behave in a productive manner. In fact, even the sick and elderly can resort to humane and compassionate recidivism programs.
Release From Prison: What to Keep in Mind
Currently housed inmates can get out of prison before their sentence ends through several ways. Each of them applies to different types of felony examples and classifications.
- Probation: This is an alternative to incarceration. Instead of going to prison, felons and offenders must report to the government. At times, authorities might supervise offenders or place them under house arrest.
- Early Release: Some inmates can earn credits for good behavior, up to a certain amount of days per year. In most cases, a single credit equals one day. For example, if a prisoner has 50 credits, authorities release them 50 days before their original sentence ends.
- Reduced Sentence: At times, a felon can ask a court or judge to review their case. Equally as important, violators who help law enforcement uncover larger crimes (such as by giving them information about other criminals that the offender worked with) attain less prison time.
- Compassionate Release: This is for prisoners that develop a serious illness and those who need to provide for their family or children. Currently housed inmates who are over 65 years old may also qualify for early release.
Felony Examples and Classifications
Your eligibility for early release depends on the type of felony that you committed. Equally as important, each state follows its own felony examples and classification methods. In general, though, this is how felonies are categorized:
- Class A or Level 1: The most serious crimes, such as murder, fall under this category. These felonies have harsh sentences and limited privileges.
- Class B or Level 2: Burglary and theft are Class B/Level 2 felony examples. This category is for moderate or somewhat severe offenses.
- Class C or Level 3: Offenders who steal someone’s information online or rob inexpensive physical items are committing a Class C/Level 3 felony.
Some state governments use the Class A, B, and C categories, while others have a Level 1, 2, and 3 system. Just as importantly, certain states don’t even classify felonies. Instead, they have certain punishments for individual crimes.
Felony Classifications and Currently Housed Inmates
When a court charges someone with a Class A/Level 1 or Class B/Level 2 felony, the inmate isn’t eligible for parole or reduced prison time. This is even more so the case when the crime carries a mandatory minimum sentence.
Having said that, there are exceptions. More specifically, when a criminal cooperates with law enforcement and helps them solve other related crimes, a court may become lenient.
To give an example, assume that a judge sentences a drug dealer to ten years in prison. However, the convict decides to reveal the identities of the drug smugglers and gang members that they worked with.
In turn, the court might lower the drug dealer’s sentence to five years, for instance.
As far as good conduct time is concerned (where currently housed inmates receive credits for productive behavior), violators who committed all types of felony examples can enjoy this privilege.
Keep in mind, though, that this may only be the case in certain states. Moreover, a judge might also limit or abolish an offender’s eligibility to earn good conduct credits.
A murderer that kills someone might have to spend the rest of their life in prison. Similarly, a criminal could commit one of the more serious felony examples while they’re serving their sentence.
In those cases, currently housed inmates will likely lose any credits they have, as well as the ability to earn more good conduct days in the future.
Offenders with Class C, D, or E felony examples are certainly eligible for early release. Their methods and options are also relatively flexible.
Past Offenses and Sentencing
Every court looks at a prisoner’s record and criminal history when they determine their sentence. A repeat offender, in most cases, cannot walk out of prison early.
Equally as important, a formerly incarcerated Class A felon may commit a Class D or Class E offense. A judge will punish them more strictly than a first-time offender who committed the same crime. State laws can differ from one another in this area, though.
On a national level, however, the ‘three-strikes’ rule applies to all cases. When someone commits three felonies, regardless of their classification, they will almost certainly get a harsh sentence.
In fact, the legal system labels them as ‘repeat offenders’. Most of the time, these convictions may come with a life in prison sentence. As a result, repeat offenders will not be able to reduce their time behind bars.
State Laws: Policies and Felony Examples
The three strikes rule, alongside many others, depends on the state that a felon committed their offense(s) in.
Violent Crime and Misdemeanors
In California, both misdemeanors and felonies count towards an offender’s three strikes. Meanwhile, more lenient states only include violent crimes. In many cases, nonetheless, courts will include all felony types.
To give an example, assume that someone received a DUI or OVI charge for the first time, which is a misdemeanor. Beforehand, the same person stole inexpensive items and got a Class C or Level 3 felony.
A couple of years after their DUI, the offender commits a violent crime (such as assault) and the courts charge them with a Class A felony.
Strict states, like California, will label them as a repeat offender. From there, the courts sentence the felon to life in prison or several decades of incarceration.
Another jurisdiction, on the other hand, only counts their two felonies and leaves the misdemeanor out. While the offender still receives a prison sentence, the possibility of an early release isn’t entirely out of the picture.
Lastly, when it comes to violent felony examples (like murder, sexual assault, and battery), many states have a two strikes law. The offender is incarcerated for decades, if not for life.
Felony Classifications on the State Level
Not only do states classify felonies differently from one another, but what may be considered a crime in one area is perfectly legal elsewhere.
In locations that deal with a large amount of vehicle thefts, for instance, law enforcement will take you to jail or charge you with a felony for driving without a license or a valid registration.
Similarly, while some states legalized recreational marijuana, others still treat it as a crime. The same applies to other illegal substances. One jurisdiction might entirely decriminalize possession or treat it as a minor offense.
In other states, meanwhile, drug crimes come with mandatory minimum sentences. Needless to say, the federal government treats the possession, consumption, and distribution of illicit substances as a felony.
This area is just as important as criminal classifications. Not only does each state have its own felony levels/classes, but what their courts define as a crime also depends on local laws. Consequently, so are the associated prison sentences and opportunities for early release.
To clarify, currently housed inmates across the country who committed the same crime can receive different sentences.
Early Release: The Options
After reviewing your state’s laws and studying potential approaches, you can reduce your prison sentence by following one of the methods that we outlined above.
More specifically, here are the options that currently housed inmates have:
If authorities never charged you with a crime before, this might be a possibility, even in the face of felony charges.
There are four types of probation sentences.
- Informal Probation: Courts are most likely going to award this to offenders that commit one of the low-level and nonviolent felony examples. Instead of going to prison, a criminal is released as long they keep paying their fines and avoid breaking the law for a certain period of time. After that, law enforcement will drop the charges.
- Supervised Probation: This is similar to the first type. However, an offender must regularly communicate with an assigned supervisor. The courts require the felon to report to their supervising officer every month or week. This includes in-person visits to the supervisor’s office and random phone calls.
- Community Control: Alongside paying fines and reporting to a supervisor, felons on community probation must wear an ankle bracelet. The device tracks their location and activities, up until the probationary period is over.
- Shock Probation: Firstly, the courts will send an offender to prison and give them the longest sentence possible. Within 30 days, though, the offender is released and placed on probation. In short, judges do this to show felons what their life in prison would be like, which deters them from violating their probationary requirements.
As mentioned earlier, not all felons are eligible for probation. However, there are other ways to lower your prison sentence.
Under this system, currently housed inmates may get released for good behavior. Each year, felons get up to a certain number of days that go towards their credits. After that, the figures are added up to determine how early the offender may walk out of prison.
Having said that, to qualify for early release, inmates must meet a certain criteria. Those who are guilty of shootings, destroying aircrafts, and other serious felony examples do not receive any credits.
Equally as important, a prisoner’s risk of committing another crime or returning to prison after their release is a major factor.
In other words, repeat offenders will have a hard time meeting the requirements, but it is not impossible to do so. When a multi-time felon enrolls in recidivism training and demonstrates that they don’t pose a risk to the community, the warden may allow them to start earning credits.
Keep in mind, though, that a repeat offender will likely be placed under community control or supervised probation after their release.
Another way to reduce your prison sentence is by reporting other crimes. In an earlier example, we outlined how a drug dealer who exposes the activities of their cohorts and affiliated gang members may receive leniency from the court.
Similarly, a felon could request that the judge reviews their case. If they demonstrate improvement in behavior or present new evidence that supports their case, currently housed inmates could get out early.
Compassionate Release and Elderly Offenders
Prisoners who have a terminal medical problem or other exceptional issues can get released before the prison sentence concludes.
Traditionally, the warden and other prison officials determine which inmates can receive compassionate release. Recently, after the First Step Act became law, felons may have a court directly review their case.
As for elderly prisoners (who are 65 years of age or older), they may also lower their prison time through the Elderly Offender Pilot program. However, before an elderly inmate can walk free, they must first spend two-thirds of their sentence or more behind bars.
For example, a 60-year-old was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Under the Elderly Offender Pilot program, the warden can release the offender when they turn 70. At that point, they already surpassed 65 and served two-thirds of their sentence (which is ten years).
Appealing Court Decisions
Asking another judge or court to review your case should be a last-resort option. Inmates who are certain that they didn’t commit all or some of their charges can request an appeal.
Obviously, not every offender can challenge a court’s decision, especially if the evidence against them was strong.
Currently Housed Inmates and the First Step Act
Federal laws that govern early release rules are constantly changing. Most recently, Congress passed the First Step Act, and President Donald Trump signed it into law.
The legislation’s objectives are to lower the prison population, reduce recidivism, and give offenders, especially nonviolent ones, the opportunity to turn their lives around.
Perhaps most noteworthy, it created and expanded prison programs that currently housed inmates can take advantage of. For example, you may enroll in recidivism training courses and demonstrate that you’re not a threat to the community.
Moreover, the First Step Act changes the way that authorities use to calculate good behavior credits. Consequently, felons may get up to 54 credit days per year. Previously, the maximum was 47 credits.
Under the new law, offenders would be incarcerated in a prison that’s no more than 500 miles away their home and family. Moreover, mandatory minimum sentences for some repeat-offenders will go down. Violators may get 25 years in prison instead of a life sentence, as an example.
Above all else, the First Step Act is already making a positive change in the lives of currently housed inmates. To illustrate, here are some facts:
- Almost 2,500 sentences were lowered.
- More than 1,700 inmates started to participate in volunteering activity.
- Over 120 prisoners successfully applied for a sentence reduction or compassionate release.
- Almost 400 elderly offenders transferred from prison to house arrest.
To learn more about these changes, inmates will find plenty of resources and information after they contact prison officials.
Concluding Time in Prison
Judges and courts will sentence offenders based on the crime that they committed. At the end of the day, it is important for currently housed inmates to keep in mind that the goal behind this is to make them better law-abiding people. After all, the government doesn’t want to spend taxpayer dollars and keep criminals behind bars for the sake of it.
Before weighing the options, felons should ask themselves a few questions. Can I demonstrate to a judge that I learned my lesson? What is the likelihood that I will commit the same offense again? Would probation, rather than incarceration, teach me a lesson? Are there any people outside of prison that would suffer hardship without my presence?
The answers to these questions, amongst others, are the first step towards early release. By understanding the purpose of the criminal justice system and the reasoning behind courts’ decisions, you might be able to make a strong case that highlights how your sentence made you a better person.