Truth in Sentencing

Sentencing can be one of the more confusing aspects of a criminal case, especially because sentencing looks much different today than it did in the past. Today we have bifurcated prison sentences, meaning sentences that are divided into two parts: initial confinement and extended supervision. Some charges have mandatory minimums. If you are convicted of one of these charges, there is a statutory minimum time period for which you must be incarcerated. That means that no matter the circumstances, a judge would not be able to sentence you to a lower amount of time in prison than the minimum. The current sentencing system in Wisconsin was enacted in 1998 with the passage of Act 238. Act 238 enacted a new sentencing structure known as truth in sentencing.

What Is It?

Truth in sentencing is a sentencing system that has eliminated parole. Prior to 1998 in Wisconsin, a prison inmate could become eligible for parole, which would lead to a parole hearing, during which an inmate could argue to be released early from prison. This meant that someone who received a ten year sentence may have been able to be released from prison after only a few years, although they would then be out on parole for the remainder of their sentence and still under supervision. While there was not necessarily a guaranteed amount of time you would have to serve, many people could receive parole after having completed fifty percent of their sentence. Truth in sentencing is referred to as “time earned, time served” because if you receive a sentence you will have to serve the full amount of time of the initial confinement portion of your sentence in prison. For example, if you are sentenced to ten years initial confinement, you should expect to remain in custody for the entire time. Under truth in sentencing, all prison sentences must be bifurcated. Thus, a prison sentence might be a total of fifteen years, bifurcated as ten years of initial confinement and five years of extended supervision. Extended supervision is similar to parole inasmuch as an inmate is released from prison, is returned to the community, but is supervised by an agent of the Department of Corrections for the duration of the period of extended supervision.

Is There Any Way To Get Out Early?

Under truth in sentencing there are very few ways possibilities for early release. Prison inmates can petition for a sentence adjustment after serving either 75% or 85% of their sentence, depending on what they were convicted of. There are a few grounds on which an inmate can petition for a sentence adjustment, but the most common is probably positive behavior and progress in treatment while incarcerated. Not having any conduct violations, making progress in rehabilitation programs (like alcohol or drug treatment, for example), and progress in educational or vocational programs while in prison can form the basis for a petition for sentence adjustment. If a court grants a petition for sentence modification and releases an inmate early, the amount of time the initial confinement portion of the sentence is reduced is then added on to the extended supervision portion of the sentence. So, using the example above, a person sentenced to a total of fifteen years, bifurcated as ten years initial confinement and five years of extended supervision would probably be eligible to petition for a sentence adjustment after serving eight and a half years of the ten year sentence (depending on what level felony or felonies he was convicted of). If the court granted a sentence modification and released the person one year early, that extra year would be added on to the five year term of extended supervision, meaning the person would serve six years on extended supervision.

A person sentenced to prison may also be eligible for the substance abuse program or the challenge incarceration program. Both programs seek to address substance abuse issues. To be eligible for either of these programs, the sentencing judge must make a finding at the time of sentencing that a defendant is eligible. A defendant is not eligible if he has been convicted of any crime under chapter 940 of the Wisconsin statutes, or of many crimes in chapter 948. For either program, the Department of Corrections must determine that the inmate has a substance abuse problem. For the challenge incarceration program, the inmate must be under 40 years old. If an inmate volunteers for either of these programs, is eligible, is selected, and completes the program, the remainder of the inmate’s initial confinement portion is converted to extended supervision, such that the total length of the bifurcated sentence is unchanged.

Modifying a Sentence

We receive a large number of calls from individuals who are incarcerated who would like to modify their sentences. In some cases they would like a reduced number of years while others would like to become eligible for programs while in custody. Unfortunately, it is both difficult and extremely unlikely to have a sentenced modified down the road. Because of this, it is important to have an aggressive, and hard working attorney handle your case initially, as they are more likely to be able to secure you a more beneficial sentence. If you are currently awaiting sentencing, or are facing criminal charges, call our office for a consultation and let us show you what we can do for you.