Alternatives to Incarceration
Ever since the first prison opened in the United States in 1790, incarceration has been the center of the nations criminal justice system. Over this 200 year period many creative alternatives to incarceration have been tried, and many at a much lower cost than imprisonment. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s when our criminal justice systems across the country began experiencing a problem with overcrowding of facilities. This problem forced lawmakers to develop new options for sentencing criminal offenders.
Unlike jail or prisons, which create an expensive cycle of violence and crime, these alternatives actually prevent violence and strengthen communities. Community corrections programs provide many communities with local punishment options as an alternative to prison or jail. These sanction programs are lower cost alternatives to the increased prison and jail constructions, based on the cost per offender. These programs provide local courts, state departments of corrections, and state parole boards with a broad range of correctional options for offenders under their jurisdiction. The overall goals of these programs are to fit the appropriate punishment with the crime, the offender is punished and held accountable, and the public safety is protected.
There are several programs available as an alternative to incarceration, the earliest being probation. Probation is still widely used for first time offenders. This program allows the offender a sort of second chance in the community. Offenders on probation must report to their probation officer anywhere from once a month to three or four times a week depending on their case need. On the average offenders are required to report once a week. Aside from reporting to their probation officers, offenders may have certain criteria they must meet and accomplish as a condition of probation. Some of the conditions may be a requirement for employment, school, or community service hours. These conditions must be met to satisfy the sanction, if they are not met the offender would be in violation and sent to jail or prison.
Another commonly used alternative is house arrest and confinement. This sanction restricts an individual to his or her residence for specific periods of time; in most house arrest programs offenders are allowed to leave their homes only for employment, medical needs, or mandated assignments such as community service or school. The emphasis of this program is on confinement, and the supervising officers’ role is to ensure that the offender stays confined at home. There are three different levels of home confinement, each with a different degree of restricted freedom. The first is curfew which requires offenders to be in their residence during limited, specific hours, generally at night. The offender’s movements...