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Incarceration Alternatives to Hard Prison Time

Updated on November 30, 2014

Prison overcrowding is a serious issue in the United States that has only recently begun to be corrected. In 2011 there were 1,598,783 inmates in federal prison; in 2012 that number decreased by 1.7% to 1,571,013 inmates in federal prisons (Goode, 2013). This was the third consecutive year where the number of inmates imprisoned decreased instead of increased; this change was caused by a shift towards incarceration alternatives (Goode, 2013). There are many different forms of alternative incarceration such as home incarceration and community service that should be an option for defendants who meet a certain criteria.

I feel that for a person to receive an alternative to incarceration the guilty party needs to meet specific criteria. A person’s crime should have to be non-violent; this would include crimes such as: vandalism, petty theft, disorderly conduct, first drunk driving offense, property damage, first drug offense, and/or any other crimes that did not result in the death or injury to anyone outside of the guilty party. I also feel that a person should only receive an alternative to incarceration if they are not a flight risk, they are not a repeat offender, and they show remorse for their actions.

One alternative to prison that a person can be sentenced to is home incarceration with electronic home monitoring. This punishment “requires offenders to stay in their homes except when they are in certain pre-approved areas (i.e. at court or work)” (FAMM, 2013). This punishment often uses an electronic monitoring device in the form of an anklet to track the offender’s location and to alert authorities if the offender is outside of his/her confinement area in an un-allowed time (FAMM, 2013). This method is an effective option because it forces the offender to pay typically $5-$15 per day for their own punishment, it allows the offenders to get any mental help he/she needs, it keeps the person integrated in their community, and the cost is cheaper than prison (Patchin & Keveles, 2004).

A second alternative to incarceration is community service. This option is not always offered by itself; sometimes it is a condition of probation or as a part of a diversion (Travis, 2012, p. 392). This option in normally reserved as a stand-alone sentence for petty crimes committed by a minor; such as first time petty theft and/or vandalism. Community service is an effective option because it allows the offender to pay back the community in some way and learn about why their crime was wrong (Patchin & Keveles, 2004). For instance a person who committed vandalism might be sentenced to a certain number of hours of cleaning up graffiti, trash, and/or maintenance of public areas. As a condition of probation a drunk driver might have to serve in an emergency room, where they can see the harm that they could do to others by drunk driving as well as help the staff care for people who have been harmed.

There are many other alternatives to incarceration that are available to the courts for sentencing. I personally feel that prison should be reserved for violent and repeat offenders to decrease prison overcrowding as well as for the benefit of the offender. I feel that home incarceration is better than prison because it allows the person to still be a member of their community as well as allowing the person to get any type of help they need such as: mental, drug, and alcohol help. Community service does a better job at cutting down on repeat offences because it shows the individual how the crime they committed harmed others and/or forced others to clean up after them.

Do you agree with alternative types of incarceration?

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Alternatives to Incarceration in a Nutshell. (n.d.). FAMM. Retrieved December 6, 2013, from

Goode, E. (2013, July 25). U.S. Prison Populations Decline, Reflecting New Approach to Crime.

The New York Times. Retrieved December 6, 2013, from


Patchin, J., & Keveles, G. (2004). Alternatices to Incarceration: An Evidence-Based Research

Review. Criminal Justice and Prevention. Retrieved December 7, 2013, from


Travis III, L. (2012). Introduction to Criminal Justice. (7th Ed.). Boston: Anderson Publishing


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