Teton County inmates no longer have the option to shave time off their court-ordered sentences for good behavior.
After a year of internal review, Sheriff Matt Carr and Lt. Chett Hooper, who oversee the Teton County Jail, have done away with the jail’s longstanding “good time” policy.
“Its intent was to relieve overcrowding,” Carr said. “That hasn’t been an issue in over a decade.”
But to keep things fair the Teton County Sheriff’s Office still honored good time earned for inmates who were sentenced before June 1 of this year, which is when it got rid of the policy.
At least one victim was upset when her family learned a defendant was going to be released almost six months prior to her court ordered release date.
“I felt blindsided,” the victim said. “It wasn’t just a day or two. It was six months. That’s a lot of time.”
According to the written good time policy, its purpose was “to provide inmates with the opportunity to receive credit off of their sentence for good behavior.”
But the policy wasn’t well known.
The victim who talked to the News&Guide said she didn’t know about it until Teton County Victim Services called her over the summer and said the defendant who was sentenced to 18 months in jail for hitting and shaking her toddler would be released early.
“We were shocked and tried to find out if there was anything we could do or say or appeal to change her early release, and we were told no,” she said.
The victim’s family testified in Teton County Circuit Court last year against their nanny, who was caught on camera hitting and shaking their 1-year-old son.
The videos revealed nine violent interactions in a five-hour time frame, the parents told Teton County Circuit Court Judge James Radda.
Radda sentenced the nanny to 18 months, the maximum allowed by law.
The boy’s parents met with Carr when they found out the defendant would be serving only about 12 months instead of the expected 18 months.
“It was hard for me to see the pain and sorrow this has caused their family,” Carr said. “And the policy added to that. I assured them it’s been changed, but ultimately not in a timely enough manner for their case.”
According to documents, before its end three months ago the last time the good time policy was revised was in 2008.
Under the policy, general population inmates could be eligible for three days of credit off a 30-day sentence.
And inmate workers, those who choose to take on a job such as cleaning or cooking while they serve time, could qualify for additional “good time.”
“Qualifying inmate workers will be eligible for an additional five days credit (total of eight days) for every 30 days of sentence length,” the policy stated.
The policy applied only to those inmates who were sentenced by a judge to serve 60 days or more in the Teton County Jail.
Once the inmate was booked, a detention officer would receive a copy of the court’s judgment and sentence.
The officer would then enter the sentence length on the inmate’s booking record, and a “detention center lieutenant or designee” would calculate potential good time and forward a projected release date to the inmate.
Officers could also rescind good time based on violations, according to the policy.
Carr said that aside from overcrowding no longer being an issue at the county jail, he thought the policy was problematic in other ways.
“It was hard to calculate, especially when trying to interpret the court’s credit for time served,” Carr said.
It opened up jail staffers to the added responsibility of calculating a sentence with the possibility of good time, which Carr said felt like a task that should be handled at the court level rather than the detention level.
“The judges are expecting the sentences they give to be carried out,” Carr said. “We want to honor that.”
Teton County Prosector Erin Weisman said she supported Carr in his decision to get rid of the policy.
“As you’re aware, the policy was a carryover from the previous administration,” Weisman told the News&Guide.
“Do I support his decision to do away with the good time policy? Yes.”
On the flip side of the argument, good time was a major incentive for inmates to become jail workers.
Hooper said other incentives remain for inmate workers, like more recreation time.
The victim’s family said when they were told in court the defendant who hurt their son would serve 18 months, they expected her to serve the full sentence.
“I don’t care what she did for good time while she was in jail,” the boy’s mother said. “It doesn’t change what she did to get there and the impact she had on my son and my family.”