Since the primary purpose of incarceration in prison is the rehabilitation of the prisoner, abuses resulting from sentencing criminals to definite and fixed sentences made it necessary to modify the law in some manner. In 1817 New York passed a “good time” law, empowering the “inspectors of the prison to reduce the sentence of any convict sentenced to imprisonment for not less than five years, one-fourth, upon certificate of the principal keeper and other satisfactory evidence, ‘that such prisoner has behaved well.’” Pennsylvania tried a system as early as 1790 whereby a prisoner might be released by the judge who sentenced him if he showed signs of reformation. As a historical innovation and an ingenious philosophy which greatly influenced the American parole system, the system for preparing convicts for their return to society devised by Alexander Maconochie stands out above all others. Convicts were passed through various grades of servitude, without a definite sentence, each carrying with it an increasing degree of responsibility until that stage was reached where the prisoner could be released under supervision, or with certain restraints. By 1868 there were 24 states with good time statutes, and every state had some provision for release on good time by 1940.
Robert C. Knapple,
Criminal Law—Good Time Statutes—Menard v. Nichols,
38 Neb. L. Rev. 1067
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