When someone mentions punishment for committing a crime, they automatically think of prison. Although, prison is the first option that passes through a person’s head, there are many more options that they have been using for years to be able to reinforce a person’s behavior without putting them behind bars. These alternatives help reflect their actions. Some learn from their mistakes, know that they can get punished for it, and decided to never commit an offense again. These options have been proved to be effective and helpful. Prisons are constantly overcrowding, so the use of these alternatives for a person who commits a non-violent crime or minor offense, are available to these offenders. The alternatives for these offenders include putting them on probation, substantial fines, and community services.
Probation is one of top options when it comes to an alternative. There are about seven million American adults that are under supervision of the state and criminal justice systems (Washington, D.C., 2011). About two million of these individuals are incarcerated for their crime, while the rest of the five million are supervised through probation (Washington, D.C.,2011). The goal of probation in this case is to help rehabilitate individuals without the use of sending them to prison. If an offender does not meet all the conditions applied, probation may be revoked, and the suspended jail sentence will be put back. Probation is “a sentence served while under the supervision of in the community” (Schmalleger,2017).
Conditions under this alternative include two types of conditions: general and specific. General conditions require that the probationer obeys all laws, maintain employment, remain within the jurisdiction of the court, possess no firearms, and allow the probation officer to visit at home or work (Schmalleger, 2017). Now, special conditions may be applied by a judge. Depending on the offense, a judge may require that the offender surrender his or her driver license; submit at reasonable times to warrantless and unannounced searches by a probation officer; supply breath, urine, or blood samples as needed for a drug or alcohol testing; complete a specified number of hours of community service; or pass the general equivalency diploma (GED) test within a specified time (Schmalleger,2017). The other conditions for probation are known as specific conditions.
Specific conditions may prohibit the offender from associating with named others (a co defendant, for example), may require that the probationer be at home after dark, or may demand that the offender complete a particular treatment program within a specific time (Schmalleger,2017). The use of probation first came out in the 1850s, and it all started with a man named, American John Augustus (Schmalleger, 2017). Augustus was a Boston shoemaker. This man attended courts and one day offered to take carefully selected offenders into his home as an alternative to imprisonment. By 1857, Augustus was accepting to take all kinds of offenders into his home. Augustus died in 1859, having bailed out more than 2,000 convicts (Schmalleger, 2017). Before anyone knew it, probation was a widely used form of community-based supervision. Different states were hiring probation officers and using probation as their alternative to imprisonment. By 1925, all 48 states had adopted probation legislation (Schmalleger,2017).
Being fined is an alternative to prison and surely has its pros and cons. There are different reasons for a person to get fined. One reason for getting fined is for committing a driving offense, such as illegal parking, speeding, and driving through a red light (Sydney, 2006). Other reasons include, not paying a fixed penalty notice, catching public transport without a ticket, urinating in public, finding someone to be drunk and disorderly, and many other offenses (Sydney, 2006). A fine might not seem like big thing to some people and think that it’s an easy way out for their irresponsible actions, but to others it is a huge deal because some cannot afford the fine. An individual can have up to 30 days to pay off their fine. If they do not think they can pay it within the 30 days, they can request the judge more time to be able to pay off the fine. Though, if a person does not pay off the fine on time, the court will inform the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and DMV will suspend the persons driver license.
There are advantages and disadvantages in this alternative. Judges reported that they believed fines achieve the goals of sentencing; are flexible; useful for property and greed crimes; enable consistency while reflecting the seriousness of an offense; are the less intrusive and moderate option for minor offenses; and act as both a personal and general deterrent (Sydney, 2006). Though, the fines seem like the perfect alternative, there are also disadvantages to this option. Disadvantages like, the adverse impact on family or dependents; the unevenness of a financial burden caused by the differential between the rich and the poor offenders; the impact of relatively inflexible penalty regime when imposed on those with special disabilities, such as mental illness, and practical difficulties in contesting fines and in obtaining time to pay (Sydney,2006). As mentioned, if a person is having difficulty paying off their fine, they can request time. There are also other options like entering a payment plan; being issued with a caution in certain circumstances, such as being homeless or suffer from a mental illness; and performing community service to work off the debt.
Community service is a very common alternative. Community service is “a program through which convicted offenders are placed in unpaid positions with non-profit or tax-supported agencies to serve a specified number of hours performing work or service within a given time limit as a sentencing option or condition” (Harris, 1979). The Criminal Justice Act in 1972 introduced community service and the Home Office Research Unit was studying the operation of it. Community service was brought into experiment in six probation and after-care areas in early 1973 (Pease, 1985). It was evaluated for 18 months when they reached the conclusion that it was viable (Pease,1985). As ordered by the court, this alternative will not interfere with a person’s work, education, or religious commitments. An individual is not able to choose where they will work. They may work inside or outside since they are run by local groups, such as sporting clubs, nursing homes, and councils. An offender must be age sixteen or over to be able to participate in community service (Pease,1985). The extent of work obligation must be between 40 and 240 hours and be achieved within one year (Pease,1985). If the offender refuses to work or fails to obey, he may be returned to court where they may give him a warning, fine him for breaking the rules, or cancel the service and re-sentence him to the original crime. Before appointing a community service order, the court must have considered a social inquiry report prepared by a probation officer or social worker and be satisfied that the offender is suitable (Pease,1985).
There are different alternatives when it comes to incarceration. As mentioned, there are three options which are being on probation, paying fines, and working community service. These alternatives are cutting down prison numbers and crimes. Instead of sending an offender behind bars, they can be put on one of these options. Being put on one of these alternatives can help them reflect on their actions and help them realize what they did was wrong. There are different types of offenses for being put on probation, community service, or being fined. The court decides what they consider to be the best option for the offender, but if the offender decides not to obey or cooperate with what was ordered, there could be serious consequences which could lead to prison. Prison is not always the option because you could also get your driver license suspended for example, if you don’t pay your fine on time. Though, these alternatives are ways that can stop a person from going to prison, so it is best to just follow with what was ordered by the judge whether it being probation, paying fines, or working community service.