Alternatives to Jail


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States and counties around the country have offered criminal defendants a number of alternatives to jail. These alternatives help to keep more people outside of overcrowded jails and provide an incentive to reform behavior.

Overview

Alternative sentencing consists of anything beyond an ordinary jail or prison sentence. It includes a number of different arrangements. The availability of such alternatives is based on the state and local jurisdictions. Additionally, certain types of criminal conduct may prohibit the issuance of an alternative sentence.

Many of these alternatives are not a defendantís natural right. Instead, his or her defense attorney may negotiate an available alternative through a plea agreement with the prosecutorís office. The prosecutor often has the discretion to determine whether or not to offer such an alternative. He or she may offer such alternatives to individuals who have ongoing responsibilities and who may be affected more dramatically by incarceration. In some jurisdictions, the defendant must apply for alternative sentencing through the county sheriffís office and receive approval from the judge responsible for sentencing. The defendant is usually responsible for the cost associated with any alternative sentencing.

Work Release

This type of program is set up to prevent a person from losing his or her job. The defendant may be released from the jail in order to work his or her regular shift and then returns to the jail after this shift. In order to be approved for this type of alternative sentencing, the defendantís employer may have to be in contact with the defendantís probation officer. The defendant may also be required to wear a tracking device in order to ensure that he or she is actually going only to work.

Weekend Incarceration

This alternative sentencing works the opposite of work release in which the defendant is at home most of the time but then is at jail during the weekend or other days off when he or she is not working. This alternative sentencing is sometimes given to defendants who have a minimal sentence to serve, such as under 30 days.

House Arrest

House arrest allows a person to serve his or her sentence in the comfort of his or her own home. The defendant usually wears an ankle monitoring device that shows that he or she is at home. He or she may be permitted to make limited trips outside of the home, but the defendant is often give a curfew in which he or she must return home. This type of sentencing may be given to someone who is a caregiver or who has health issues.

Rehabilitation

In some instances, courts may order a defendant to serve time in a rehabilitation center instead of serving time in jail. There are often caveats in these orders that state that if the defendant leaves the center early, he or she will have to serve the original jail sentence. This type of sentencing is often available for individuals who were convicted of a drug or alcohol crime or whose addiction contributed to the crime.

More and more states are including drug courts in their sentencing schemes. In drug court, the defendant pleads guilty and has his or her case transferred to the drug court division. His or her sentence usually includes a combination of rehabilitation, drug screens, supervision contacts and other instructions as set out by the drug court. If the defendant does not comply with any of the orders of the court, the defendantís original guilty plea is re-entered and the defendant is required to complete the original sentence.

Counseling

In some situations, defendants may have experienced a difficult childhood, abuse or other extenuating circumstances that the court may consider in sentencing. Sometimes the court will order counseling because it recognizes that other factors may have contributed to the commission of the crime.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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