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Alternatives to Incarceration

The reaction to crime has experienced a revolution with time. In the late18th Century and early 19 Century, the revolution took place based on Western democratization and partly by the rationale of the existing philosophers and legalists of the time. During this period, the justice system was made to be equal and rational by avoiding judging the victim and the offender on the scales of whether he was a commoner or a nobleman. Prior to this, the forms of punishment were corporal punishment, exile, execution, and other forms of punishment that could not be termed as humane. This revolution thus aimed at establishing better and more humane ways of punishing lawbreakers. From this point in time, imprisonment was established. Several decades later, there were no improvements in the rate of crime. Instead, the population of incarcerated people was swelling and swelling. Accordingly, the cost of keeping the inmates was going higher and higher each passing day. This called for an alternative to this form of punishment. Consequently, several options came up. This paper will discuss some of the alternatives of punishment and their application (Criminal Law, 2009).

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One of the most common alternatives to incarceration is probation. This is a form of punishment that is offered to a convicted offender or offered after a plea of guilt or bargain settlement. In this form of punishment, the offender is not incarcerated but is made to serve his sentence outside the jail or prison walls. While the guidelines may vary from one state to another, the basic concept is that the offender is made to stay under community supervision and is given certain terms whose compliance is required and are set forth by the judge. Statistics show that more than 4 million people are currently under this form of punishment in America (Criminal Law, 2009).

Probation was suggested as alternatives for people who posed a limited threat to the public and those who looked likely to be rehabilitated in the community. This system puts the offender to the test so that he can prove that he no longer poses any threat to public safety and also prove that he was going to be a responsible citizen. Under probation, an offender is subjected to some conditions by which he is expected to abide by. Regularly, he meets the probation officer whose role is to oversee his conduct, ensuring that the offender is abiding by the stipulated conditions of probation, assist the offender in their effort to adjust to the community and finally act as the advocate to the offenders’ success during the period when he was under probation (Criminal Law, 2009).

The offender might be made to live in a given place, attend counseling sessions, perform services to the community, to be attending occasional chemical check-ups, he might be barred from reaching certain places like pubs or parks, and he might also be forced to pay some costs to cover the expenses incurred during probation (Criminal Law, 2009).

Restitution is another alternative to incarceration that dates back into the days of the Babylonian Empire under the Hammurabi codes. Victims of property offenses were made to receive certain compensations from the offenders. Restitution was also echoed by the Mosaic Law, the Roman law, the Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu, the Codes of Eshnunna, and several other laws. Restitution is defined as the, “…monetary payment by the offender to the victim for the harm reasonably resulting from the offense.” (Bright, 1997). However, restitution can go further than just monetary payments to extend to in-kind services offered to the victim. It is usually offered to property offenders where offenders are made to pay for the repair of the financial loss or the harm made to their relationship with others. This form of punishment simply puts the victim back in the position he was before the commitment of the offense. However, this system is impeded by factors like most offenders not being caught, not being prosecuted, not being convicted, and that the system also lacks reinforcement and monitoring systems. In other cases, the offender failed to raise the required amount to appease the victim.

In such cases, the difference would be topped up by a compensation fund (Bright, 1997).

Another common form of alternative to incarceration is the use of restorative justice. The British Home Office (2009) defines restorative justice as a form of a justice system that incorporates the offender, the victim, and the community and makes them come up with a solution to the perpetrated offense. In a more precise way, it is a system that allows the criminal justice system to find solutions to the crime that would be positive and would ensure that the offender pays for the crime committed. Unlike other forms where the justice system is punitive, restorative justice calls for the offender to make amends to the victim that he has caused harm.

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This form of alternative to incarceration is applicable to several forms of offenses including minor anti-social crimes like the destruction of property through graffiti and can be applied to more serious crimes like robbery. This can only happen if the offender accepts the commitment of the offense. To achieve this, four approaches can be taken. One of the approaches is direct mediation where the victim and the offender are brought together under the watchful eye of the facilitator and their supporters and together, they come up with a solution. The second form is indirect mediation where the two do not meet face to face but use the letter as means of communication. The letter is passed from one person to the other through the facilitator. The third form is conferencing where the supporters of both parties engage in a discussion to come up with a solution. Finally, the fourth method is the wider community approach which is related to direct mediation, only that the family of the offender is involved as his support structure (British Home Office, 2009).

From the issues mentioned above, it is clear that there are several other means of correctional methods to offenders that are less costly as compared to incarceration. These methods are important because they involve offenders of petty mistakes including the destruction of property through graffiti. Such offenders would not be exposed to a harsh conditions in prison where they would be exposed to hardcore criminals. In addition, some of these methods offer restoration to the victim who is put back in the position he was before the commitment of the offense. It is therefore important for the government makes use of these methods as they are less costly.


  1. Bright, C. (1997). Restitution. Restorative Justice online.
  2. British Home Office. (2009). Restorative Justice. Crime and Victims.
  3. Criminal Law, (2009). Probation.

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