10 Jail Alternatives and Their Legal Conditions

In criminal court cases, jail and prison aren’t always a guarantee in a guilty sentencing. As prison populations are at an all-time high in the United States, more courts are looking at possible jail alternatives. As long as a case does not have a mandatory sentence required by law, it’s at a judge’s discretion to use the jail alternatives available to them.

Below are ten different types of jail alternatives available:

1. Fines

Fines are used as common jail alternatives for a variety of less serious offences and particularly among first-time offenders. Fines are applied to fish and game violations, shoplifting, and traffic violations, among other crimes. A fine can also be combined with other punishments such as community service or probation, depending on the severity of the crime committed.

2. Restitution

Fines are paid to the government authority, compared to restitution which are monies paid to a state restitution fund or directly to the victim. For example, stolen or damaged property or the value of such property may be required to be provided to the victim.

If there’s medical or psychological treatment costs relating the crime committed, restitution may be ordered to be provide. In some cases, if the defendant has defrauded the state, they may be sentenced to provide the state back with the money defrauded.

3. Community service

Defendants can be ordered to perform unpaid work known as ‘community service’, as a means of punishment for having committed an offence. Community service is oftentimes issued as a judgment alongside another form of punishment i.e. probation, a fine, or restitution. As long as said defendant completes the required community service hours and the other terms of his judgment, a sentence can be fully served without the need of going to jail.

4. Probation

When an offender is put on probation, they are required to adhere to a number of conditions. These will likely include obeying all laws, abiding by any and all court orders, reporting to a probation officer with regularity, reporting changes in employment or address to said officer.

In addition, the conditions may also include abstaining from alcohol or substance use, submitting to regular alcohol and/or drug testing, refraining from unapproved travel to other jurisdictions, and other requirements. Probation is  oftentimes used as one of the jail alternatives, especially in misdemeanor and felony cases.

5. House arrest

For some offenders, they are permitted to serve a jail sentence from home with electronic monitoring in an arrangement known as ‘house arrest’. An ankle bracelet is typically given in a house arrest, connected wirelessly to a monitoring center. If the defendant leaves the range of what’s permissible, they are in violation.

Some house arrest judgments allow a defendant to continue working at certain hours of the day. Like probation, a violation means sentencing can be revoked at which time the defendant may be require to serve a jail sentence.

6. Inpatient rehabilitation or treatment

If the defendant has drug, alcohol, or psychiatric problems, they may be permitted to serve a sentence in a rehabilitation clinic or treatment program. This can be extended stays anywhere from six months to two years. These vary from halfway houses sponsored by a church to state-funded treatment programs. A participant is usually required to live on-site, participate in the required counseling, and all the while with significant supervision.

7. Diversion programs

A criminal court case can be diverted out of the criminal justice system where criminal charges are dropped following the completion of a state-funded diversion program. Diversion allows a defendant to not receive a criminal conviction.

This is usually available with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies such as those involving drugs or alcohol. Some jurisdictions will also go to diversion for cases involving domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, and traffic-related offences.

8. Miscellaneous sentences

Within reason, a judge can determine a sentence based off what they feel is most appropriate for the case. They have some ability to use creativity in how to punish an offender as a jail alternative.

An example of one of the more innovative punishments is the installation of a breathalyzer device in a vehicle to ensure the vehicle only starts after the offender has been determined to have clean breath. Another miscellaneous alternative is to have to give lectures or appear in education classes about criminal behaviour.

9. Apology to the victim

As a part of some judgments, an offender may be required to submit an apology to the victim if they haven’t already done so. This is an element of restorative justice that has increasingly received attention since the early 2000s. Some argue that a criminal who apologizes and who makes amends could potentially receive no jail time or only serve a portion of their sentence.

Although this approach is more common outside of North America, particularly in UK jurisdictions, it’s one of the jail alternatives that may occasionally be relied on. Some expert criminal lawyers may be able to negotiate for an apology as the ideal jail alternatives.

10. Periodic detention

Periodic detention is an alternative to jail sentencing as it allows an offender to be held in jail periodically while still being able to enjoy their freedom within a specified period of time during the week.

This is considered an alternative to imprisonment as it allows offenders to continue working, maintaining family relationships, and avoid the habits or behaviours that can come through exposure to more dangerous criminals in traditional prisons. Like other jail alternatives, this also helps to cut down on costs.

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