Question: I’m facing conviction on a DWI at the maximum sentencing level, and it could involve jail time. Will I really have to serve the full sentence?
Answer: It depends. By law, if you are given the full sentence of 24 months active time, you are eligible for parole after 2.4 months. Parole eligibility date is based on when you complete the minimum sentence, or if there is not a mandatory minimum sentence, when you have served 1/5 of your sentence. To qualify for parole, you must meet both of the following qualifications:
– Receive an award of good time credit; and
– Either (i) obtain a substance abuse assessment and complete any recommended treatment or training program or (ii) be paroled into a residential program.
The good time credit qualification requires that, as you can guess, you exhibit good behavior. These credits are a day-for-day reduction of your sentence. If you have 45 days of good credit, your sentence will be reduced by 45 days- up to the mandatory minimum.
Even if that good time credit is met, there is the second prong of the qualification test. A substance abuse assessment must be obtained and either treatment has been completed or you are going to be paroled into a residential program. Based on the expectation of maximum sentencing, we can assume that the required substance abuse treatment program will take more than 20 hours of counseling. Logistically, scheduling an assessment, completing the assessment, scheduling and attending counseling or training required by the treatment program, and completing all requirements will take you past the 2.4 months when you are technically eligible for parole if you wait and start the treatment once you are in. Thus it is strongly recommended that you complete a full Alcohol Treatment by a licensed agency prior to your conviction date.
Some critics feel that release into a residential program is akin to an early release. This perception is wrong. Residential programs have been considered, by the court systems, restrictive enough to count as credit towards an active custodial sentence. The average residential program lasts 90 days, includes constant monitoring and active involvement in the therapy program. It is a good win/win for you and for the State. While it is less restrictive than prison, it also is geared to treat the underlying substance abuse issues to reduce recidivism, and it saves the State and the taxpayers thousands of dollars.
No matter how good your behavior, and how quickly you complete your assessment and counseling, your sentence may not be reduced to less than the mandatory minimum.
As you can see, there are ways to reduce your sentence. They are not easy and they are not guaranteed, but all requirements are there to ensure that whether you serve a shorter or longer sentence, you will have a higher chance of not falling back into the problems of addiction. Many people in our community view the role of the prison system as punishment, and many see the role as rehabilitation. As our society learns more about addiction as a substantiated disease, which requires treatment just like any other disease, we should learn to lean toward having more treatment and less incarceration.