Committing a crime doesn't always mean doing time. While a criminal conviction usually carries a sentence of some sort, there are alternatives to prison. Sometimes alternative methods are used alone, or are combined. The object stays the same, which is to provide punishment, preserve the best chance for rehabilitation, and to serve the best interest of the public.
Find out about alternatives to prison, how and when they are used, and about benefits to society.
Reasons for Prison Alternatives
Crime is expensive, from the impact on victims, costs to society and to the criminal. Dollars and cents expenses are a primary driving force behind prison alternatives. Some options cost dollars per day, and can't even be compared with the cost of keeping someone in prison.
Program costs may even be low enough that fees charged to those participating in the plans make a difference in operating budgets. State law may require a convict to pay monthly administrative fees, and a portion of wages earned while serving a sentence.
Part of the rationale behind criminal sentences is rehabilitation. Often programs outside prison walls have the highest success rates and keep those convicted from getting into more trouble with the law.
Qualifying for Prison Alternatives
Federal and state law govern prison alternatives and define which offenders are eligible and specific programs. Prisons and local jails aren't the same. Prisons are maintained by federal and state governments, and are generally used to confine people convicted of a felony for one year or longer.
Eligibility criteria varies, but may require:
- No mandatory prison sentence for the offense
- An offender's agreement to enter an alternative program
- Conviction or a plea besides not guilty to a nonviolent felony offense
- A qualifying score on an assessment test, called a Level of Services Inventory, that measures risk of recidivism
Some offenders may not qualify due to conditions such as substance abuse or mental illness. Exceptions can be made for the right candidate with cooperation from the district attorney.
Types of Alternative Programs
Prison alternatives are aimed at turning offenders into lawful citizens. Many options are more intense and carry stricter conditions than probation alone. Probation is the suspension of a prison sentence, subject to someone following conditions. Probation can be part of an alternative prison program, however.
A sentence can consist of one alternative or a combination of two or more methods.
Fines and Restitution
Payment of money is an option to prison, and this option is often seen for those convicted of financial crimes. Fines are paid to the government, while restitution is paid to victims for their losses.
Community Sentencing or Control
Community sentencing or community control refers to placing an offender in some form of highly controlled custody within a community. Conditions are much more restrictive than probation. Programs are tailored for the goals and needs of each offender. Plans may include:
- Intense and frequent supervision by program officers, who have limited caseloads
- Drug treatment or mental health program participation
- Education and vocational training, including behavioral classes
- Residential placement in a noninstitutional or home setting
Having served their sentences in the community, offenders stand the best chance to stay on the right side of the law.
Mental Health, Sex Offender and Drug Treatment Programs
Treatment programs for mental health, sex offender (including chemical castration in a few states) and drug abuse conditions are designed for rehabilitation. Treatment is paired with probation, inpatient treatment or community sentencing.
There are incentives for success, and penalties for program violations.
Electronic Monitoring and Home Confinement
Electronic monitoring, such as ankle bracelet transmitters, with home confinement (house arrest) is another way to enforce a sentence, save money and allow an offender to work towards being a lawful and productive citizen. Other electronic devices include car ignition locks for DUI/DWI offenses. Conditions include:
- Strict terms on leaving home, including time, purpose and destination
- Frequent check-ins, through a monitoring device and/or the phone
- Daily contact with a probation officers
- Frequent and random drug testing
Violating sentence conditions can send someone to jail or prison.
Other Alternative Sentences
Other alternative sentences can include methods such as boot camps, community service and public shaming. In boot camp, offenders complete a strict program of exercise, education and counseling, and can qualify for probation. Paid and unpaid community service work can be a punishment itself or combined with other measures. Shaming may be used for minor offenses, and involves publicizing an offense on a billboard or making someone wear a sign or placard.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do victims have any input on an offender's alternative sentence?
- Do I have to show I can afford the fees for an alternative program?
- Do I have any say in the location for my community control sentence?
Alternatives To Prison Essay
Alternatives to Prison
Prisons, facilities maintained for confining people convicted of committing crimes, were used to rehabilitate offenders while keeping them isolated from the community. The Quakers built the first prison in 1790 in order to seclude criminal offenders from society to think about their wrongdoing and to seek forgiveness in a kind, and spiritual environment. (Inciardi 497)
Currently, there are three types of prisons within the Federal, State, and County governments. These are categorized by the degree of security they provide. Minimum security prisons, which are also known as county jails, provide minimal supervision. These jails are generally used as holding cells for offenders awaiting trial or release. Medium security and maximum security prisons are utilized for the offenders serving a sentenced amount of time for their offenses. Their levels of security and prison design are more intense than the minimum security prisons.
The effectiveness of prisons has decreased due to progressive overcrowding, and the lack of conclusive alternatives. The need for alternatives has grown immensely over the last decade. Nonetheless, the State and Federal governments are desperate for competent, less expensive solutions. Costs of keeping a prisoner imprisoned vary among states and facilities.
Each prisoner kept in minimum-security prison generally costs us approximately $25,000 per year, while a prisoner held in a maximum-security prison costs between $35,000 to $74,862 per year. (Smolowe 56) These costs include basic transportation to and from the prison, infirmaries, kitchens and dining area, power plants used for electricity, sewage disposal, prison schools, labor buildings and locations, and salaries for the staff members. As the prison costs increase, the chance of layoffs among personnel increases, which would ultimately result in more violence and much less rehabilitation. In 1993, 21 correction agencies opened 48 new institutions, adding 42,899 beds at an average cost of $47,153 per cell. (Jacobs et al. 120) "In an era of tight money, spending on construction and operations of prisons is increasing twice as fast as the growth in overall spending". (Holmes 3) These rising costs are another reason alternatives to prison are being pursued.
In 1980, the United States housed 329,821 total inmates in State and Federal prisons. (Allen et al. 221) As of 1994, this population count expanded to 1,053,738 inmates; a 219% increase. (Allen et al. 221) "The world's highest incarceration rate has seesawed in recent years between the Untied States and Russia, with both far outdistancing other nations". ("Get Tough" 24) Consequently, " the United States finds itself in the midst of an unparalleled prison building boom". (Holmes 3)
Overcrowding occurs when prisoners are forced to share cramped cells with many different prisoners. This has always been a problem for prisons and it continues to be a serious, escalating problem....
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