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 outside of the curfew hours are unregulated. The second is home detention that requires offenders to remain at home at all times except for employment, education, treatment, or other pre-approved activities. This program may be with the assisted with electronic monitoring. The last level is home incarceration. This program requires offenders to remain at home at all times, with very limited exceptions for religious or medical purposes. At a minimum, offenders are subject to random contacts across all hours covered by the condition in order to verify compliance.
Electronic monitoring is another widely used form of surveillance in which an electronic device is attached to an offender’s body, warning that person that someone is watching. Electronic monitoring allows for long distance surveillance of offenders by either passive or active devices. Passive devices operate via radio transmissions in a wrist or ankle bracelet. Active devices use telephone robotics and computerized random calls to an offender’s residence. Electronic monitoring is a component of the house arrest program. Offenders may be placed directly into this program at sentencing or placed on it when jail crowding occurs, or when a violation of probation occurs.
On of the newest and most publicized sanction program is shock incarceration, or boot camps. These programs vary in size, duration, location, control of entry (judiciary or department of corrections), the level of post-program supervision and in the level of training, education, or treatment programming provided. All of these programs are relatively brief, usually three to four months, and are designed for offenders who have not yet served time in a state prison. The programs draw on the model of a military boot camp. They stress strict discipline, obedience, regimentation, drill and ceremony, and physical conditioning, sometimes to include manual labor. Shock program participants are expected to learn self-discipline, teamwork and develop improved self-respect. Program participants are housed separately from the general prison population, although in some programs they are within sight and earshot of general population inmates. Several state boot camp programs focus their efforts and program design on changing inmate behavior by means other than punishment and hard labor. Upon graduation of the program, parolees participate in an intensive aftercare-monitoring program for six months and complete the remainder of their sentence under parole supervision.
There are many alternative programs in place, such as the ones I have talked about to help ease the problem of overcrowding in facilities, and although nothing is 100 percent effective in diminishing our countries crime rate, these programs are a good start in helping to divert offenders from a continuos cycle of crime and violence.