Good Conduct Time for Prisoners: Why (and How) Wisconsin Should Provide Credits Toward Early Release

68 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2014 Last revised: 22 Nov 2016

Michael M. O'Hear

Marquette University - Law School

Date Written: 2014


Wisconsin is one of about twenty states not offering good conduct time (GCT) to prisoners. In most states, prisoners are able to earn GCT credits toward accelerated release through good behavior. Wisconsin itself had GCT for more than a century, but eliminated it as part of a set of reforms in the 1980s and 1990s that left the state with what may be the nation’s most inflexible system for the release of prisoners. Although some of these reforms helpfully brought greater certainty to punishment, they went too far in eliminating nearly all meaningful recognition and encouragement of good behavior and rehabilitative progress. This article explains why and how Wisconsin should reinstitute GCT, drawing on social scientific research on the effects of GCT, public opinion surveys in Wisconsin and across the United States regarding sentencing policy, and an analysis of the GCT laws in place in other jurisdictions. Although the article focuses particularly on Wisconsin’s circumstances, the basic argument for GCT is more generally applicable, and much of the analysis should be of interest to policymakers in other states, too.

Keywords: sentencing, criminal law, good conduct, early release, parole, truth in sentencing

Suggested Citation

O'Hear, Michael M., Good Conduct Time for Prisoners: Why (and How) Wisconsin Should Provide Credits Toward Early Release (2014). Marquette Law Review, Vol. 98, No. 1, 2014; Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 14-25. Available at SSRN:

Michael M. O'Hear (Contact Author)

Marquette University - Law School ( email )

Sensenbrenner Hall
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201
United States
414-288-3587 (Phone)
414-288-5914 (Fax)

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