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  • InsideTrack
  • March 18, 2015

    Marquette Law Professor: Early-release Prison Programs Reduce Recidivism, Save Money

    March 18, 2015 – Wisconsin has more than 20,000 individuals in prison, and nearly all of them will eventually be released to the community. Given this reality, “all of us have a stake in whether these prisoners are well prepared for a successful return to free society,” says Marquette University Law School Professor Michael O’Hear.

    Reinstituting “good time” programs that allow prison inmates to be released early for good behavior “helps with this transition, and reduces the risk of recidivism from returning prisoners,” O’Hear says.

    In his March Wisconsin Lawyer cover story, “Let the Good Times Roll: Early Release for Good Behavior in Prison,”  O’Hear reviews troubling aspects of “mass incarceration,” including the human and fiscal costs, and concludes that “good time” should be part of the reform conversation.

    Reducing Recidivism

    “Good time provides incentives for prisoners to stay out of trouble,” says O’Hear. “It, therefore, promotes a more orderly, safe, and constructive prison environment.”

    Good time also provides incentives for prisoners to engage in positive activities like education and employment training that will help them to succeed once they have returned to free society.

    “The states that have adopted good time programs, have found that these programs do indeed measurably reduce the rates of disciplinary infractions in prison and also reduce rates of recidivism after the prisoners return” to free society, says O’Hear.

    Saving Taxpayer Money

    Good time programs are also capable of reducing prison budgets. “Currently in Wisconsin, we have a billion dollar prison budget, which is larger than the budget of the entire University of Wisconsin system,” says O’Hear.

    Why 'Good Time' Matters: The Need to Transform Prisoners

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    In this follow-up video, O'Hear discusses how a transformative experience at a Wisconsin prison convinced him of the need for a constructive early release program for inmates. He discusses his background on the topic and why 'good time' for prisoners matters.

    Read his article, “Let the Good Times Roll: Early Release for Good Behavior in Prison.”

    “In Wisconsin and across the country, state legislators and policymakers are looking for ways to reduce prison populations without endangering public safety. Good time provides just such a reform. It helps to move people out of prison more quickly if they are demonstrating by their performance … that they can be safely released.”

    The Ethics of Hope

    Good time has an ethical dimension. “In 2010, in the case of Graham v. Florida, the United States Supreme Court recognized that it could be cruel punishment to have a sentence that provided the prisoner with no hope, with no incentives to transform his life and do better in the future.”

    “This is a very important ethical insight,” says O’Hear. “It is very important for us to hold criminals accountable for their wrongdoing. But we can do that, and we should do that in the context of a correction system that encourages prisoners to do better. That recognizes their potential to do better and that encourages and recognizes their rehabilitative progress.”

    “For all of these reasons,” says O’Hear, “I think that good time should be on the agenda as the Wisconsin Legislature considers criminal justice reforms in the currently legislative session.”

    For more on good time, check out Michael O’Hear’s feature in Wisconsin Lawyer magazine, “Let the Good Times Roll: Early Release for Good Behavior in Prison.”

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