Montgomery Proposal Enables More Prisoners to Accrue Merit Time

Velmanette Montgomery

February 13, 2006

Albany, NY (February 13, 2006): A greater number of men and women incarcerated in New York State prisons will be able to qualify for a reduction in their sentence by accumulating merit time under legislation proposed by State Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn).

The legislation (S.1701-A) enables individuals serving indeterminate and determinate sentences to earn up to one-third off their minimum or maximum sentences. For example, a person serving an indeterminate sentence of 6 to 12 years could receive a sentence reduction of 4 to 8 years and a person serving a determine sentence of 15 years could be released after 5 years.

Montgomery explained that under existing law, inmates may only earn merit time off their maximum sentence and determinant sentences may only be reduced by up to one-seventh. Also under current law, indeterminate sentences may be reduced by up to one-third -- an allowance that Senator Montgomery’s bill maintains.

"This legislation is important to most inmates because the accrual of merit time may result in an earlier review by the parole board and lead to their early release from prison," said Montgomery.

The Senator said that circumstances for which merit time may be earned under her bill include but are not limited to reports of good behavior; successful participation in assigned work and treatment programs; receipt of a general equivalency diploma (GED); certification of alcohol and substance abuse treatment; completion of vocational programming, and the performance of service as part of a community work crew.

Individuals serving a life sentence or those incarcerated for a violent offense -- such as murder or first degree rape -- would not be eligible for merit time under Montgomery's bill. These populations are excluded in order to maintain New York’s entitlement to federal Truth-in-Sentencing funding, which is used by states for the construction or improvement of correctional facilities.

The legislation awaits consideration by the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction, which is chaired by Senator Michael Nozzolio. The bill must be approved by Committee before it may be voted on by the full Senate. The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens).