Expand Community Service Alternatives to Incarceration

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When people are breaking laws, get arrested and convicted of a crime, having their punishment be in the form of community service can be an alternative to incarceration.  This can be less damaging to their lives moving forward than incarceration.   


Alternative to incarceration is any punishment given to an individual who commits a crime that is served by means outside of confinement in a jail or prison. Alternatives to incarceration have proved to be less expensive than incarceration. Additionally, alternatives can repair harms suffered by victims, provide benefits to the community, treat individuals struggling with SUD, mental illness, or a coexistence of both; and rehabilitate offenders. It is important that before we can maximize the benefits of alternatives to incarceration, however, we must repeal mandatory minimums and give courts the power to use cost-effective, recidivism-reducing sentencing options instead. [1]

Pros of Alternatives to Incarceration

Give Courts More Sentencing Options

Each offender and crime is unique, and prison or jail time may not always be the most effective response. If courts have options other than incarceration, they can better tailor a cost-effective sentence that fits the offender and the crime, protects the public, and provides rehabilitation.[2]

Save Taxpayer Money

It costs over $28,000 to keep one person in federal prison for one year (some states’ prison costs are much higher).  Alternatives to incarceration are cheaper, help prevent prison and jail overcrowding, and save taxpayers millions.[3]

Strengthen Families and Communities

Prison or jail time separates the offender from his or her spouse and children, sometimes for decades at a time. Alternatives to incarceration keep people with their families, in their neighborhoods and jobs, and allow them to earn money, pay taxes, and contribute to their communities.[4]

Protect the Public by Reducing Crime 

Over 40% of all people leaving prison will reoffend and be back in prison within three years of their release. Alternatives to prison such as drug and mental health courts are proven to confront the underlying causes of crime (i.e., drug addiction and mental illness) and help prevent offenders from committing new crimes.[5]

The Public Supports Alternatives to Incarceration 

Over ~75% of adults believe that alternatives to incarceration (probation, restitution, community service, and/or rehabilitative services) are the most appropriate sentence for nonviolent, non-serious offenders and that prison or jail are appropriate only if these alternatives fail.[6]

Incarceration Alternatives

Some argue that alternative to incarceration is a lesser sentence without impact. But studies have shown that the vast majority of survivors also prefer investments in education, mental health treatment, drug treatment, and job training to more spending on prisons and jails.[7]

Various Alternative Sentences as Alternative to Incarceration

Monetary Fine

  • A fine is the most common form of punishment given by the courts. The offender must pay a fixed sum of money. If they don't pay, they could get a prison sentence.

Probation Order

  • When an offender is supervised by a probation officer in the community for a certain time.Sometimes the court will apply additional requirements to the probation order, including:
    • Mandatory attendance of a alcohol or drug rehabilitation center
    • Mandatory attendance of a day center
    • Mandatory attendance of any other medical treatment or counselling

Community Service Order

  • When an offender gets a community service order, they must do unpaid work in the community for a derration that is decided in the discretion of the judge
  • They must work the hours as instructed. If they don't do the work, they will be returned to court, where they could receive a fine or any other sentence
  • This can be utilized in combination with a probation order

Conditional or Absolute Discharge

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