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Merit Time Program Summary October 1997-December 1999

NCJ Number
E. Michele Staley
Date Published
22 pages
In 1997, the New York Legislature authorized the creation of the Merit Time Program, a program that allows inmates who are serving prison sentences for certain non-violent crimes to earn a possible one-sixth reduction of the minimum term if they have achieved certain significant program objectives and have not engaged in any serious disciplinary infractions.
There were 8,006 merit hearings between October 1997 and December 1999. These hearings resulted in 5,345 inmates being approved for merit release. Of the merit approvals, 5,075 individuals were actually released prior to their parole eligibility date. Between 1997 and 1999, 81 percent of merit time releases were committed for drug offenses. Additionally, 81 percent of merit releases were sentenced as second felony offenders. The average minimum sentence for merit releases was 35 months, while the average maximum sentence was 87 months. The average time served by merit releases was 30 months, over 5 months prior to the completion of the minimum sentence. A typical merit release was most likely to be male, from New York City, and about 37 years of age. Inmates with merit approvals who were released prior to their parole eligibility date returned at a rate of 10 percent during the first year. Overall return rates for other release cohorts ranged from 5 percent for shock incarceration program graduates to 17 percent for non-merit parole eligibility denials. Based on the total number of merit releases between 1997 and 1999, cost savings to the Department of Correctional Services were estimated at $61 million, assuming a conservative $27,639 maintenance cost per inmate per year. 17 tables