How to Calculate How Much Time You Will Actually Serve in Federal Prison

One of the strange complexities of preparing for federal prison is it’s not always clear how much time you’ll serve in prison, even after sentencing. This is largely due to the existence of programs where an incarcerated individual can earn time credits to reduce their period of incarceration. It is these programs, outlined below, that give us a high degree of confidence Elizabeth Holmes will serve approximately 78 months of her 135 month sentence and Jen Shah will serve approximately 30 months of her 78 month sentence.

Below, we share the three primary ways in which an incarcerated individual earns additional time credits.

Examples of sentence calculations are provided below, which follow the key assumption that the person sentenced will have maintained a low or minimum risk status in the BOP’s calculation and avoid disciplinary action that may reduce the benefit of these programs. The majority of white collar offenders fall under this classification.

The Benefit of Good Time Credits

Good Time Credits are credits earned for good behavior, described in law as “compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations.” These credits reduce an incarcerated individual’s time in custody. Any person who is serving a term of imprisonment greater than one year may receive credit toward their sentence, equal to 54 days for each year of their sentence (equal to approximately 15%).

Credits are applied at the beginning of a term of imprisonment and will not change, unless the incarcerated individual has a disciplinary issue: Bureau of Prisons staff can and often does remove Good Time Credit days in response to a disciplinary issue.

How to Apply First Step Act Earned Time Credits

First Step Act (FSA) is a criminal justice reform bill signed into law in 2018 which focuses on reducing recidivism by expanding programming and granting incarcerated individuals earned time credits (ETC) for participation in “evidence-based recidivism reduction programming.”

The earned time credit gains can be significant: participants earn up to 15 days in additional time credits for every 30 days of active involvement in FSA programming. An eligible individual may earn 365 days off of their overall sentence and earn up to an additional 365 days toward their residential re-entry (halfway house or home confinement) which means a person can transfer away from their designated facility earlier.

There are certain offenses which will prevent a person from FSA eligibility which the BOP has listed on their website but the majority of those at minimum-security federal prison camps are eligible for FSA as long as they remain out of disciplinary segregated housing. Other reasons a person may lose FSA credits or fall out of earning status include:

  • Engaging in misconduct that results in disciplinary infractions.
  • Refusal to participate in the Financial Responsibility Program for repayment of court-ordered restitution, fees, or fines.
  • Opting out of FSA programs or activities, including required drug education programs or GED programs.
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Calculating Time Earned by Completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP)

The Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) is an intensive substance abuse treatment offered by the federal Bureau of Prisons. Participants live in a separate therapeutic community and engage in half-day substance abuse programming totaling 500 hours over a 9 month period (though some programs operate as a 6 month program, others 12, depending on the location). For more about RDAP, including eligibility and how the program is structured, check out our comprehensive guide to the Residential Drug Abuse Program.

Completion of the program results in earned time credits: someone with a 12-24 month sentence can receive six months in additional time credits, those with a 25-36 month sentence can receive nine months in additional time credits, and those with a 37 month sentence or longer can receive twelve months in additional time credits.

RDAP policy also provides language that says individuals should receive additional time in re-entry (which may result in an individual leaving prison sooner), though that applied on a case-by-case basis.

Calculations and Examples

How Much Time Will You Serve if Sentenced to 12 Months?

An individual who has been sentenced to 12 months in federal prison will not receive the benefit of Good Time Credits, nor would you receive any time credit benefit from completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). The person will earn a total of 75 days worth of First Step Act Earned Time Credits, however, and be eligible for about three months of halfway house time.

A person who is sentenced to 12 months should expect to serve approximately 200 days in prison followed by about 90 days in a halfway house.

How Much Time Will You Serve if Sentenced to 12 Months and One Day?

An individual sentenced to 12 months and 1 day in federal prison will receive the benefit of Good Time Credits in addition to First Step Act Earned Time Credits, but they would not receive any time credit benefit from completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). This person will be credited 54 days of Good Time Credit, 75 days of First Step Act Earned Time Credits, and be eligible for about three months of halfway house time.

A person who is sentenced to 12 months and 1 day should expect to serve approximately 146 days in prison followed by about 90 days in a halfway house.

How Much Time Will You Serve if Sentenced to 24 Months?

An individual sentenced to 24 months will receive the benefit of Good Time Credits and First Step Act Earned Time Credits. This person will be credited 109 days of Good Time Credit and earn 180 days of First Step Act Earned Time Credits, but they would not receive any time credit benefit from completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP).

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A person who is sentenced to 24 months should expect to serve approximately 12 months in prison followed by about 90 days in a halfway house.

How Much Time Will You Serve if Sentenced to 36 Months?

An individual sentenced to 36 months will receive the benefit of Good Time Credits and First Step Act Earned Time Credits. This person will be credited 162 days of Good Time Credit and earn 270 days of First Step Act Earned Time Credits. These credits reduce the sentence to 663 days, or approximately 21.8 months.

Without participation and completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program, a person who is sentenced to 36 months should expect to serve approximately 15 or 16 months in prison followed by 6 months in a halfway house.

With participation and completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program, a person who is sentenced to 36 months should expect to serve approximately 12 months in prison followed by about 120 days in a halfway house (to meet the minimum RRC time requirement outlined in the RDAP program).

How Much Time Will You Serve if Sentenced to 48 Months?

An individual sentenced to 48 months will receive the benefit of Good Time Credits and First Step Act Earned Time Credits. This person will be credited 216 days of Good Time Credit and earn 365 days of First Step Act Earned Time Credits. These credits reduce the sentence to 878 days, or approximately 28.9 months.

Without participation and completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program, a person who is sentenced to 48 months should expect to serve approximately 1 year and 8 months in prison followed by about 9 months in a halfway house.

With participation and completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program, a person who is sentenced to 48 months should expect to serve approximately 12.9 months in prison followed by about 120 days in a halfway house (to meet the minimum RRC time requirement outlined in the RDAP program).

How Much Time Will You Serve if Sentenced to 60 Months?

An individual sentenced to 60 months will receive the benefit of Good Time Credits and First Step Act Earned Time Credits. This person will be credited 270 days of Good Time Credit and earn 365 days of First Step Act Earned Time Credits. These credits reduce the sentence to 1,189 days, or approximately 39.1 months.

Without participation and completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program, a person who is sentenced to 60 months should expect to serve approximately 2 years and 3 months in prison followed by 12 months in a halfway house.

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With participation and completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program, a person who is sentenced to 60 months should expect to serve approximately 21 months in prison followed by about 120 days in a halfway house (to meet the minimum RRC time requirement outlined in the RDAP program).

How Much Time Will You Serve if Sentenced to 78 Months?

An individual sentenced to 78 months will receive the benefit of Good Time Credits and First Step Act Earned Time Credits. This person will be credited 356 days of Good Time Credit and earn 365 days of First Step Act Earned Time Credits. These credits reduce the sentence to 1,654 days, or approximately 55 months.

Without participation and completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program, a person who is sentenced to 78 months should expect to serve approximately 3 and a half years in prison followed by 12 months in a halfway house.

With participation and completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program, a person who is sentenced to 78 months should expect to serve approximately 30 months in prison followed by about 12 months in a halfway house or on home confinement.

Additional Resources