Alternatives to incarceration in criminal cases

When the criminal defendant has little or no criminal history, poses little or no threat to the public, and the crime does not spark public outrage, the court may be amenable to an alternative sanction that is more onerous than probation, but less onerous than incarceration.

Alternative sanctions permit the defendant to work and pursue educational or rehabilitative programs while saving the cost of incarceration. Some counties use alternative programs frequently in criminal cases where statutes may forbid straight probation, such as repeat driving-while-impaired offenses. Many of these programs pose considerable burdens and multiple opportunities for the defendant to fail. If you or a loved one is charged with an offense for which the judge routinely imposes straight probation or a fine, then these are probably the best options. A smart criminal defense attorney will suggest alternative sanctions only when necessary to avoid his or her client’s incarceration.

Several possible alternatives to incarceration exist:

  • Boot camp.
    The judge may order or recommend that, in lieu of serving his full term, the defendant serve a reduced term in a boot camp, where he will be subject to military-style discipline and training, including drug treatment and counseling in the development of life skills. This sentence is most appropriate for young, healthy offenders who seem in need of guidance to develop self-discipline.
  • Weekend or intermittent incarceration.
    This prevents the defendant from missing work and losing his job.
  • House arrest or community confinement.
    With house arrest, judges often will order electronic monitoring. The defendant must wear a transmitting device, usually around his ankle, which will trigger a notification to the probation office if he leaves his home or a specified radius. The device can be turned off during the hours approved for work, school, church attendance or the like. The appropriateness of this alternative depends on the defendant’s personal situation.
  • Intensive supervision.
    Intensive supervision programs may require a combination of more frequent visits to the probation officer, drug testing, consent to random searches, community service, curfews and electronic monitoring. Besides home-arrest ankle bracelets, some probation departments can fit the defendant with a global positioning system (“GPS”) to monitor whether he remains within the county or other limited geographical area. Technology also is available that can monitor whether the defendant consumes any alcohol. Where alcoholism might have contributed to the crime, the judge might order this, and the defendant may have to pay the cost.
  • Community service.
    Judges like this alternative in criminal cases involving an affluent offender who is not in need of a rehabilitative program.