Cutting Correction Costs:  Earned Time Policies for State Prisoners

Cutting Costs CoverAugust 2010

Under historic budget cuts, state legislatures are looking for ways to trim corrections costs while maintaining public safety. One option is to stabilize or reduce expensive prison populations by accelerating release of lower-risk inmates who complete education, vocational training, treatment and work programs or participate in other productive activities.

At least 31 states provide these incentives—called “earned time”—that reduce the costs of incarceration and help offenders succeed when they return to the community. Inmate prison terms are reduced from the date on which they might have been released had they not completed the specified programs. Earned time is distinguished from, and can be offered in addition to, “good time” credits, which are awarded to offenders who follow prison rules.

This report examines state earned time laws and the cost implications of these policies.  Also included are interviews with Steve Aos from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, Representative Pat Colloton, KS, and Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary Jeffrey A. Beard; and a 50-state map of earned time laws.

This report was prepared under a partnership of NCSL's Criminal Justice Programs and the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States.

For more information on this topic, please contact Alison Lawrence, 303-364-7700 or