In past decades, a criminal conviction typically resulted in a sentence of incarceration or corporal punishment. Currently, a focus on rehabilitation and community courts are becoming an integral part of the justice system.
Community programs are shifting the focus towards a rehabilitation approach instead of a punishment approach to reducing criminal recidivism, or reoffending. Under criminal laws, a defendant who is convicted of a crime may be able to pay the debt they owe to society by a means other than incarceration.
Although some felony crimes require a defendant to serve a minimum jail sentence, there are other offenses, such as some misdemeanors, that allow courts to use community programs that are designed to keep defendants out of jail when appropriate. Types of alternative sentencing examples are discussed below.
Restitution and Fines
Restitution is the repayment of monetary damages to a victim. Criminal fines, in contrast, are paid by the defendant to the government.
For example, if a defendant damaged property, they may be required to pay restitution to the victim for the damage they caused. A court may also order a defendant to pay finds even if the crime did not involve any type of financial damage.
Work Release and Weekend Jail Programs
If a defendant already has a steady job or has the ability to obtain a steady job may qualify for work release or weekend jail. Work release allows a defendant who is serving a jail sentence to be released from jail during the day to continue going to a job they already had or to go to a job they obtained while serving their sentence.
At the end of each work shift, however, the defendant is required to immediately return to the jail and remain there overnight. Defendants in these programs are not permitted to do anything else during their release time from jail other than go to their workplace.
Weekend jail, in contrast, involves a defendant only going to jail from Friday through Sunday. A weekend jail sentence may be appealing for a defendant who already has a full-time job or other responsibilities, for example, childcare or providing for other vulnerable family members.
Weekend jail allows a defendant to still be punished for their crime by reporting to jail when they would typically have free time while allowing them to maintain other aspects of stability in their life. Some victims of property crimes may find weekend jail or work release to be a satisfactory sentence along with an order for the defendant to pay restitution.
These types of alternatives to imprisonment may allow a defendant who can still work to pay back the restitution they owe faster than a jail sentence that prevents the defendant from earning the money to do so.
House Arrest with Electronic Monitoring
House arrest and electronic monitoring are types of monitoring systems that are frequently found in pretrial release and probation conditions. They may also, however, be used as an alternative sentence after a defendant’s conviction.
House arrest allows law enforcement to monitor a defendant’s behavior while they are restricted to being in their own home or a responsible family member’s home in cases that involve juveniles or young adults. These types of systems usually provide the community with a financial benefit because electronic monitoring systems are often paid for by the defendant or the defendant’s family.
This makes them cheaper for taxpayers as opposed to paying to house the defendant in a state-operated jail.
Community service programs require a defendant to complete a certain number of hours of unpaid work for the community or for the benefit of the public. Community service hours are typically recorded by an official or leader of the program who records the hours and reports them back to the judge.
Although it may be tempting for an individual to complete their community service hours at the last moment, it may take up a lot of time. Because of this, it is important for a defendant to schedule their community service requirements in equal amounts in order to make sure they complete it on time.
Jail Diversion and Rehabilitation Programs
In cases when the criminal behavior of a defendant is linked to an active substance abuse problem or mental illness, the court may order the defendant to be diverted to a treatment program instead of serving a jail sentence. If a defendant completes the required diversion program, they may avoid a conviction altogether.
Common types of diversion programs involve:
- Drug and alcohol treatment;
- Psychological or psychiatric treatment; and
- Counseling or educational programs.
For example, a driver who is facing a traffic violation conviction may be allowed to complete a driver’s program in order to avoid prosecution. An individual who is convicted of driving while intoxicated may be required to install a breathalyzer in their vehicle.
An individual who is convicted of domestic abuse may be ordered to complete an abuse prevention program in lieu of a jail sentence. A military veteran may be eligible for programs that are provided by the federal government in order to divert them from incarceration.
One of the main advantages of a diversion program or alternative sentence is that it may allow a defendant to address the underlying issue that caused them to face criminal charges.
How Do I Qualify for Alternative Sentencing?
A defendant who wants to complete a diversion program or an alternative sentence may volunteer to participate in a program. A court will be much less likely to order a treatment or rehabilitative plan if the defendant will not participate.
A defendant may also qualify after an intake assessment by a social worker or other administrator of a desired program to see if the defendant’s participation would be appropriate. There are many different types of crimes that are not eligible for diversion or alternative sentencing, for example, violent offenses or drug trafficking related actions.
What Factors Increase the Likelihood of Alternative Sentencing?
There are numerous different factors that may increase a defendant’s change of being allowed to receive an alternative sentence, including:
- It is a first-time offense for the defendant;
- The crime committed was non-violent in nature;
- The crime was the result of alcohol or drug abuse or involved drug possession;
- The defendant is not a danger to the victim or the community;
- The defendant has steady employment and ties to the community;
- The defendant has a support network to encourage completion of a program; and
- The defendant has already begun a treatment program and shows promise to complete.
Do I Need a Criminal Lawyer?
If you have been convicted of a crime and alternative sentencing may be available to you, it is important to consult with a criminal lawyer. Your lawyer can help defend you in court and protect your rights.
Your attorney can help identify any alternative sentences that you may qualify for in your local county or city and can help determine your eligibility. It is important to be aware that there are usually consequences for failing to complete alternative sentences and you should discuss these with your lawyer.
Typically, a court will order a defendant to serve time in jail if they do not attend or complete the program as required.