“Alternatives to incarceration” refer to any punishment besides being put in prison or even being jailed for a given period after one has done a crime (Babchuk et al., 2012). In most cases, punishments, apart from jail time or prison lead to serious demands from offenders as well as providing them with community supervision and intensive courts. It has been shown that alternatives to incarceration play a pivotal role in repairing harms that victims go through including the provision of benefits to communities as well as treating the mentally ill or drug addicted individuals and enhancing the processes of rehabilitating offenders (Fan, 2011). At the same time, Alternatives to Incarceration help in reducing jail and prison costs as well as preventing the reoccurrence of crimes in future. Notably, there are several forms of Alternatives to incarceration such as probation, drug courts, halfway houses, home confinement/electronic home monitoring, fines and restitution, community service, sex offender treatment and civil commitment, among others. The following paper seeks to discuss different types of alternatives to incarceration. However, more emphasis will be given on probation. The paper aims to show that the application of alternatives such as probation, community service and other methods sometimes result in higher success rates.
Probation as an Alternative to Incarceration
Probation, which is also called community corrections in the United States refers to a situation where an offender is kept in a given community but with obligations and restrictions put to limit the freedom given (Hall, 2015). Notably, some of the main conditions that are attached to Probation include ensuring that one meets the probation officer, enhancement of house arrest in certain times of the day, being forced to undertake urine tests, ensuring that an individual remains free of drugs, engaging in community service, as well as participation in treatment of mental health and substance abuse. In a situation where an individual fails to follow the instructions or the conditions set by the probation officer, more and stringent supervision may be required. In the case where the violation of such conditions is serious, the authorities may be forced to revoke the probation, and the individual would be required to continue serving in prison or a jail term.
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Apparently, there are two main types of Probation. The first one is the Intensive Supervisory Probation and Parole (ISP), where officers of the probation program are only given few cases of offence. In this type of Probation, the probation office is expected to monitor offenders more closely to assess their progress (Meeker, 2015). At the same time, officers organize meetings with offenders more regularly with the aim of identifying the coping process of offenders. On the other hand, day reporting is another type of Probation. In day reporting, offenders are required, on a daily basis, to report to another office that is similar to the Probation office. In this type of program, offenders are expected to go through both alcohol and drugs tests as well as informing their officials on the plans they intend to undertake on each day. The information given to the officers by the offenders also include where they intend to work or search for a job, which helps the Probation officers in monitoring the progress of the victims.
Evidently, one of the main justifications that show that Probation has been an effective alternative to punishment compared to incarceration can be seen on the savings that are made on the Probation programs compared to the amount spent on incarceration by the government (Demleitner, 2009). According to the Long Reach of American Corrections, the United States government spends close to $85.00 on a daily basis for each prisoner compared to approximately $5.42 for a probationer. Although these figures may vary from one state to another, there is clear evidence that both federal and state governments are spending much more through incarceration as opposed to probation. In this way, and based on such cost variance, it is prudent to emphasize the need to for the promotion of community supervision as a viable option to prison. At the same time, it should be noted that the cost of probation is reduced by the fact that those on the probation also pay monthly fees in addition to restitution or fines.
As an alternative to prison, probation also plays a critical part in relation to the measures of rehabilitation provided which enhance public safety (Meeker, 2015). However, this aspect can only be understood better if one gets a clear grasp of how the probation process is implemented as well as the programs that are needed by the courts in successfully completing probation. Notably, the objective of a probation officer is to ensure that the public is protected. In this way, the officer is tasked with monitoring the progress of the probationers through interaction with them. Some of the main issues that are identified by the officers include mental problems. In most cases, such underlying factors are the ones that contribute immensely to the criminal behaviors of individuals in the community. The identification of such issues informs the decision of a court to order additional requirements and programs to rehabilitate the individual as well as reducing probationers’ recidivism through immediate interventions which are not provided by the incarceration.
Counseling programs are also provided in the probation process (Meeker, 2015). The treatment officials together with counselors are involved in guiding the offender on the best ways to stop the criminal behavior which is mostly through a gradual process. At the same time, the probationers are taught on the basic ways of leading a normal life and more so the disadvantages of living a criminal life, which could result in death. However, this is made possible by the close supervision as noted above.
Further, low-risk probationers are allowed to continue with their activities such as employment but under close monitoring by their supervisors (Fan, 2011). In this way, the probationer is not only able to provide an income for himself but also contributing to the economic growth of the community. Additionally, the aspect of “clean slate” is also part of the many benefits of probation compared to incarceration. On this end, the criminal records of some of the first-time offenders who complete probation are expunged. However, such process is only applied to first-time offenders who have participated in special programs whereby the charges on an individual are dismissed after completing the probation. However, the offenders are required to file a motion of expunging with the court whereby each state may differ in how such type of cases should be handled.
Other Alternatives to Incarceration
Drug courts refer to special branch of courts that are created in already existing systems of court. One of the roles of drug courts is the provision of court-supervised drug treatment as well as community supervision to the crime offenders who may have been involved in substance abuse (Fan, 2011). However, it must be remembered that drug courts are not integrated into the federal system but in different state governments. In some states, the drug courts are established for juveniles and adults, including family dependency and treatment courts that help in treating parents to ensure they are reunited or remain united with the children. Connectively, the eligibility conditions for the drug court programs vary from one locality to another, but they all have same characteristics such as requiring offenders to undergo random urine tests, attending counseling meetings among others. The drug courts have been given authority to reward or praise the offender for the achievements as well as disciplining them for failures. Through drug courts, those offenders who have completed the program are allowed to avoid pleading guilty or serving all or part of their jail terms and avoiding convictions that might be placed on their criminal record.
On the other hand, Halfway houses, which are also known as residential or community correction centers are used in most cases as an intermediate option for housing those who have returned from prison to the society after serving their prison sentences. However, sometimes halfway houses are used as replacements for prison or jail terms especially if the term of imprisonment of an individual is not long. As they continue being in halfway houses, the supervisors ensure that their behavior change and general progress is monitored and that they are fulfilling the conditions that have been set by the courts. Critical to note is that offenders are always required to remain inside their houses except when they are going either to work or to courts. Compared to being imprisoned, halfway houses have been instrumental in reducing congestion in incarceration centers.
Further, fines and restitution are also an alternative to incarceration (Fan, 2011). The offenders are required to pay fines, supervision fees and court costs. Notably, there are different types of fines which determine the kind of money one would be required to pay. For example, in “tariff fines” a set amount is applied to each offender after a given crime has been committed without factoring in the income level of the offender. At the same time, “day fines” refer to the flexible amount of money depending on the nature of the crime and the income level of the offender. In restitution, offenders are required to pay for all or some of the property loss and medical costs of a victim or a community that have been incurred after a crime has been committed. Fines and restitution have been used for centuries as alternatives to incarceration and have been beneficial in ensuring justice for the offended and reducing congestion in prisons.
Additionally, restorative justice which refers to the process of holistic sentencing is focused on bringing healing and repair of the harm impacted to all parties including the offenders. Some of the parties involved in restorative justice include the representatives of the victims, the justice system, community members, and offenders who come together to achieve restorative goals through victim restitution, sentencing circles, victim-offender mediation, as well as formalized programs as community service.
Alternatives to incarceration play a critical role in reducing jail and prison costs as well as prevention of the crimes reoccurrences in future. As noted above, there are several forms of Alternatives to incarceration such as probation, drug courts, and halfway houses among others. As an alternative to incarceration, probation has been instrumental in providing options for the United States court system in different ways such as the savings made on the Probation programs compared to the amount spent on incarceration by the government. Based on the benefits of the incarceration alternatives provided above such as probation, community service and other methods, it is clear that sometimes they result in higher success rates compared to jail terms and prison sentences.
Babchuk, L. C., Lurigio, A. J., Canada, K. E., & Epperson, M. W. (2012). Responding to Probationers with Mental Illness. Federal Probation , 76 (2), 41-48.
Demleitner, N. V. (2009). Replacing Incarceration: The Need for Dramatic Change. Federal Sentencing Reporter , 22 (1), 1-5.
Fan, M. D. (2011). The Political Climate Change Surrounding Alternatives to Incarceration. Human Rights , 38 (3), 7-22.
Hall, S. (2015). Why Probation Matters. Howard Journal of Criminal Justice , 54 (4), 321-335. doi:10.1111/hojo.12135
Meeker, B. S. (2015). The Federal Probation System: The Second 25 Years 1950-1975. Federal Probation , 79 (1), 37-45.