Sentencing - Alternative Sentencing

programs offenders community prison

Forms of sentencing other than probation, prison, or a combination of the two (split sentences) also exist and are widely used in virtually every state. The most recent compilation of such approaches was published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2000 in cooperation with the Conference of State Court Administrators (David B. Rottman, et al., State Court Organization 1998, Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2000).

The BJS identified eleven forms of distinct alternative sentences, although some of these are functionally similar. With the exception of boot camps for young or adult offenders, they all provide offenders more freedom than incarceration but less freedom than ordinary probation. Alternative sentencing is, in part, a response to calls by penal reformers for, as suggested in Americans behind Bars, a "continuum of punishments with probation at one end, more severe community-based sanctions in the middle, and incarceration at the most restrictive end" (New York: Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, 1993) and in part a response to crowding in prisons. Thus, for instance, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, many states use halfway houses as a way of relieving crowding. Alternative sentencing is, of course, applied to offenders whose absence of prior criminal history or general characteristics indicate that they can be trusted not to abuse their greater freedom. Opponents, however, see prison sentencing as the only "real punishment" for criminals.

State departments of correction, the District of Columbia, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons offer a range of alternative sentencing options for criminal offenders. Although programs can vary among regions, those options include work release and weekend sentencing, shock incarceration (sometimes called boot camp), community service programs, day fines, day reporting centers, electronic monitoring and house arrest, residential community corrections, and diversionary treatment programs. There is also more variation in the availability of other types of alternative sentencing options, such as mediation and restitution.

In the article "The Effectiveness of Community-Based Sanctions in Reducing Recidivism" (Corrections Today Magazine, February 2003), Ginger Martin surveyed existing data from the state of Oregon concerning the recidivism rates for alternative forms of sentencing. Some 13,219 prisoners released from January 1999 to December 2001 were included in the study. Martin found that such options as community service programs, work release, and electronic monitoring were cheaper than incarceration and showed lower levels of recidivism after twelve months. The addition of a treatment component to the community-based option, such as a drug treatment program, produced a further 10% reduction in recidivism.

Mediation and Restitution

Mediation began in Canada in 1974 and was later adopted in the United States, where more than twenty states were using mediation by the beginning of the twenty-first century. In mediation the victim and the offender meet under the auspices of a community worker and work out a "reconciliation" between them, usually involving some type of restitution and requiring offenders to take responsibility for their actions. This technique is used mainly for minor crimes and often involves private organizations; therefore, the judiciary does not always accept its resolution. Most often restitution is not considered the complete punishment but part of a wider punishment, such as probation or working off the restitution dollar amount while in prison.

Work Release and Weekend Sentencing

Work-release programs permit selected prisoners nearing the end of their terms to work in the community, returning to prison facilities or community residential facilities during nonworking hours. Such programs are designed to prepare inmates to return to the community in a relatively controlled environment while they are learning how to work productively. Work release also allows inmates to earn income, reimburse the state for part of their confinement costs, build up savings for their eventual full release, and acquire more positive living habits. Those on weekend sentencing programs spend certain days in prison, usually weekends, but are free the remainder of the time. Both of these types of sentences are known as "intermittent incarceration." Violent offenders and those convicted of drug offenses are usually excluded from such programs by the courts. In Ohio and North Carolina, inmates can work in apprentice programs arranged with private industry to earn certification in such skilled trades as printing and construction.

Work-release programs seem to help prisoners once they return to society. In the study Baltimore Prisoners' Experiences Returning Home (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, March 2004), it was found that "those who found jobs after release were more likely to have participated in work release jobs while incarcerated than those who did not find jobs." A related Urban Institute publication, Chicago Prisoners' Experiences Returning Home (December 2004), revealed the same advantage of work release participation.

Shock Incarceration (Boot Camps)

Shock incarceration is another name for reformatories or "boot camps" operated under military discipline for juveniles and adults. The name comes from William Whitelaw, British Home Secretary (1979–83), who called for a "short, sharp shock" that would end teenagers' criminal careers. Boot camps established in Great Britain attracted youths who liked the challenge, but the facilities did not lower the recidivism rate according to testimony presented to the British Parliament by corrections officials in February 2002 (

According to Alexander W. Pisciotta in Benevolent Repression (New York: New York University Press, 1994), the prototype of such a facility in the United States was established at the Elmira Reformatory in New York as far back as 1876. The first modern, correctional boot camp was established in Georgia in 1983. Faced with unprecedented overcrowding in its prisons and jails, Georgia was looking for alternatives to incarceration for adult offenders. Oklahoma began its program in 1984 and, by the end of 1988, fifteen programs were operating in nine states. The majority of programs started in the 1990s. By 1998, thirty-three correctional agencies (state and federal) operated forty-nine camps for adult inmates. Sentences are usually short (three to five months) and intended to be rehabilitative by instilling self-respect and discipline in the offender.

Boot camps are intended to be both punitive in their rigid discipline and rehabilitative in the self-esteem they claim to confer upon successful completion of the program. Shock incarceration is intended to motivate prisoners, teach respect for oneself and others, and break destructive cycles of behavior. Virtually all work on the assumption that a military regimen is beneficial.

The major selling points for boot camps have been saving money and reducing prison crowding. However, the major factor contributing to reduced costs and less overcrowding is that the boot camp programs are shorter in duration than traditional sentences, and thus participants are released earlier. In addition, studies of boot camps have indicated that the facilities have not had a major effect on recidivism.

Many adult boot camps claim to be oriented toward developing programs aimed at offender rehabilitation. Typically, boot camp programs include physical training and regular drill-type exercise, housekeeping and maintenance of the facility, and often hard labor. Some programs include vocational, educational, or treatment programs. Drug and alcohol counseling, reality therapy, relaxation therapy, individual counseling, and recreation therapy are often incorporated into such programs. Because some offenders in boot camps have drug problems, many programs devote time to drug treatment each week. Programs closely regulate dress, talking, movement, eating, hygiene, etc. Obedience to rules reinforces submission to authority and forces the prisoners to handle a challenge that is both tedious and demanding.

Community Service Programs

Begun in the United States in Alameda County, California, in 1966 as a penalty for traffic offenses, community service has spread throughout the United States. The penalty is most often a supplement to other penalties and mainly given to "white-collar" criminals, juvenile delinquents, and those who commit nonserious crimes. Offenders are usually required to work for government or private nonprofit agencies cleaning parks, collecting roadside trash, setting up chairs for community events, painting community projects, and helping out at nursing homes. Examples of such civic programs include a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection project that uses over 1,500 prison inmates as wildland firefighters and the Washington State Corrections Center for Women program in which inmates are taught how to train, groom, and board dogs that can assist people with disabilities.

The BJS in State Court Organization 1998 (June 2000) labeled community service "an exception to unconstitutional servitude," indirectly referring to the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states, in Section 1: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." By exempting the involuntary servitude of convicted criminals, the Constitution makes both community service and chain gangs possible.

Day Fines

Under this type of alternative sentence, the offender pays out a monetary sum rather than spending time in jail or prison. Most judges assess fixed, flat-fee fines sparingly. The fees are tied to the seriousness of the crimes and the criminal records of the offenders, and they bear no relationship to the wealth of the offender. As a result, judges often think the fixed fines are too lenient on wealthy offenders and too harsh on poor ones. Using the day fine alternative, however, permits judges to first determine how much punishment an offender deserves, which is defined in some unit other than money.

For example, a judge decides that the gravity of the offense is worth fifteen, sixty, or 120 punishment units, without regard to income. Then the value of each unit is set at a percentage of the offender's daily income, and the total fine amount is determined by simple multiplication. The fine is paid into the jurisdiction's treasury. Day fines are also used in Europe.

Day Reporting Centers

These centers, known as DRCs, were developed in Great Britain and first instituted in the United States during the 1980s. Intended to allow offenders to reside in the community, such programs require participants to report daily or less frequently.

These programs, designed for persons on pretrial release, probation, or parole, require participants to appear at day reporting centers on a frequent and regular basis in order to partake in services or activities provided by the center or other community agencies. Those sentenced to report to DRCs are often in need of treatment or counseling for drug or alcohol abuse, and most centers provide a wide array of onsite treatment and services. Failure to adhere to program requirements or to report at stated intervals can lead to commitment in prison or jail. Participation at the DRC can also be terminated if the subject is charged with a new crime.

DRCs monitor offenders on the road to rehabilitation. They are also intended to relieve jail or prison overcrowding. Many DRCs operate in distinct phases in which offenders move from higher to lower levels of control based on their progress in treatment and compliance with supervisory guidelines. Most programs run five or six months. DRCs do not generally exclude serious offenders, although many programs appear to select non-serious drug- and alcohol-using offenders. Some DRCs require offenders to perform community service, but the level and type of community service performed varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Intensive Probation Supervision (IPS)

IPS is another implementation of close supervision of offenders while they reside in the community. Offenders on probation are increasingly people convicted of felonies (rather than misdemeanors), who are sentenced to intensively supervised probation because prisons are crowded, but the offenders require close monitoring. Routine probation, however, was neither intended nor structured to handle this type of high-risk probationer. Therefore, IPS was developed as an alternative to prison or routine probation, with the additional aim of reducing the risk to public safety.

Caseloads of officers assigned to IPS offenders are kept low. In typical programs, the offender must make frequent contacts with a supervising officer, pay restitution to victims, participate in community service, have and keep a job, and, if appropriate, undergo random and unannounced drug testing. Offenders are often required to pay a probation fee. All states had IPS programs in 2005.

House Arrest and Electronic Monitoring
Program (EMP)

Some nonviolent offenders are sentenced to house arrest (or home confinement) in which they are legally ordered to remain confined in their own homes. They are allowed to leave only for medical purposes or to go to work, although some curfew programs permit offenders to work during the day and have a few hours of free time before returning home at a specified time. The idea began as a way to keep drunk drivers off the street, but quickly expanded to include other nonviolent offenders.

The most severe type of house arrest is home incarceration, where the offender's home is actually a prison that he or she cannot leave except for very special reasons, such as medical emergencies. Home-detention programs require the offender to be at home when he or she is not working. Some offenders are required to perform a certain number of hours of community service and, if they are employed, to repay the cost of probation and/or restitution.

Electronic monitoring works in tandem with house arrest. Electronic monitoring can consist of a small radio transmitter attached to the offender in a nonremovable bracelet or anklet. Some systems send a signal to a small monitoring box, which is programmed to phone a Department of Corrections computer if the signal is broken; other systems randomly call probationers, and the computer makes a voice verification of the prisoner. In some cases, a special device in the electronic monitor sends a confirmation to the computer. More advanced technologies are being applied to electronic monitoring of probationers and parolees, including Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technologies, which uses satellites to keep track of subjects. GPS can help corrections officers ensure that the subject is not violating any territorial restrictions.

Electronic monitoring is often used to monitor the whereabouts of those under house arrest and permitted to be only at home or at work. EMP is sometimes used to ensure that child molesters stay a specified distance from schools. Electronic monitoring costs much less than building new prison cells or housing more inmates. However, close supervision by officers is crucial to the success of any home confinement or electronic monitoring program. Officers must insure that the participants are indeed working when they leave the house and that they are not using illegal drugs. Periodic checks of any electronic monitoring equipment must also be done to see if there have been any attempts to disable the equipment.

According to the National Law Enforcement Corrections Technology Center (Keeping Track of Electronic Monitoring, October 1999), "a properly run electronic monitoring program (EMP) can be a cost-effective, community-friendly program to harbor 'low-risk' offenders."

Residential Community Corrections

These facilities are known less formally as "halfway houses" because they are intended to serve as places where prisoners spend their pre-release time becoming reintegrated into community life. Offenders may also be sentenced to halfway houses directly in lieu of incarceration if their offenses and general profile indicate that they will benefit from the structure and counseling available in such facilities. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, halfway houses are frequently used in many states to relieve prison overcrowding.

Residential programs house offenders in a structured environment. Offenders work full time, maintain the residence center, perform community service, and can attend educational or counseling programs. They may leave the centers only for work or approved programs such as substance-abuse treatment. One type of residential program, called the restitution center, allows the offender to work to pay restitution and child-support payments. Centers also regularly test the residents for drugs.

Diversionary Treatment Programs

Probation combined with mandatory treatment programs is an alternative sentence for nonviolent offenders convicted of drug offenses, alcohol abuse, or sex offenses. Sentenced individuals are free on probation but typically are required to attend sessions of group therapy and supervised professional treatment.

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about 6 years ago


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about 7 years ago

would house arrest be available for a white collar crime of 24 mos or less?

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about 8 years ago

You say there are eleven distinct alternative sentences but you only list ten

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almost 6 years ago

how a judge use house arrest in sentencing an offender

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over 3 years ago

I would like to know is their an age cap on adult boot camp. I am 50 , would it be an option for me.

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about 5 years ago

I am sentenced to fulfill 10 weekends in county jail, i want an alternative sentencing if allows such as community service,worki release progra ( cwp ), or any if such exist. Thank You.

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almost 6 years ago

can a level 16 get house arrest for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

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almost 6 years ago

what is the purpose of utilization for an offender who is place on house arrest house

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about 6 years ago,