Defendants contemplating a plea bargain deal for prison time need to know how much time they will actually serve before being eligible for parole. One key component to understanding your parole eligibility calculation is the “good time credits” awarded by TDCJ. When doing ball park eligibility calculations, family members sometimes rely on the general rule of thumb that if the inmate doesn’t get in trouble, he gets one day of good time credit for each “calendar” day he serves (Inmates normally refer to calendar as “flat time”).
But the actual rules are more complicated. Although you certainly don’t need to understand every nuance in the law, a general grasp of what good time you can earn (and what can be taken away) is important when planning for a post-prison future.
The first thing to know is that the statutory framework for awarding good time is hard to understand if you don’t already have knowledge of how TDCJ classification works. For anyone sentenced on or after September 1, 1987 (referred to awkwardly in the system as “70th Legislature offenders”) you earn a certain amount of days of good conduct time per 30 days calendar time served. The specific number of days you can earn depends on your classification. For example, if you’re designated as “Line CLass I” you can earn a maximum of 20 days per 30-day period. In addition, the statue authorizes TDCJ to award a “Line Class 1” inmate 15 days of work time credit. So, if you start out classified as Line Class 1, get a job and keep it, and don’t get in administrative trouble, you’ll bet cruising along earning 65 days total credit for each 30-day period – 30 days flat time, 20 days good time, and 15 days work time.
Most inmates start out classified as Line Class 1. You normally have to serve at least 6 months before bumping up into trustee (SAT) status. Here’s the breakdown:
Classification Flat Time Good Time Work Time
Line Class 1: 30 days 20 days 15 days
Line Class 2: 30 days 10 days 5 days
Line Class 3: 30 days 0 days 0 days
State Approved Trusty (SAT):
SAT II 30 days 30 days 15 days
SAT III 30 days 30 days. 15 days
SAT IV 30 days 25 days 15 days
Reduction of good time:
TDCJ can take away your good time if you receive a disciplinary infraction. Here’s a real-world example. Inmate x admitted to possessing tobacco products in his cell and gets his classification reduced from S3 to S4. So he gets 5 days a month of good time knocked off his time sheet. Not that big of a deal on paper, but the intangibles of getting on the warden’s bad side can be the real “punishment” there.
What about my time spent in County Jail?
The default rule is that you get awarded the Line Class 1 good conduct time retroactively. So once you get processed at TDCJ they will give you 20 days per 30 days flat time in the county facility.
So if I’m serving a 2-year sentence can I go into parole review status before I even pull chain (that means get put on the chain bus and sent to TDCJ)?
Yes, you probably will. If you’re heading into county jail and waiting to get sent to TDCJ on a short sentence, and your sentence isn’t aggravated or “3(g)” then you need to have your parole packet ready before you plead guilty – a Parole Institutional Officer will be heading your way before you know it. This is especially true if you spent any significant time in county jail prior to entering your plea.
If I’m pleading to a violent offense or there’s a deadly weapon finding or if my lawyer says something about 3(g), does this effect my good time earning ability?
No, you can still earn good time and will probably start out classified as Line Class 1 like everyone else. But your “earned” good time may not get you much because other statutory rules control parole and mandatory release for these types of offenses. Those rules will be described in another post.