Type: Research
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Incarceration refers to the state of being confined, locked up, or detained in closed areas such as prisons, jails, or penitentiaries. Javitze (2009) defines incarceration as the process by which suspected criminals are locked up in jails or prisons for either short or long periods of time depending on the severity and seriousness of the offences that they are alleged to commit. In my view, incarceration is the process by which law enforcement officers such as the police and government agencies (for instance, correctional and reformatory centers) arrest and confine people who are suspected to be criminal offenders in society. Incarceration is the process of detaining an individual in a prison or jail as a form of punishment for committing criminal offences. Both adults and juveniles offenders are subjected to confinement or incarceration by the criminal justice system for committing criminal activities.

According to Abramsky (2007), the main reasons for incarcerating an individual are to isolate the suspected criminal or offender from other members of the society in order to prevent him from harming other people in the community, to prevent him from committing more criminal offences as well as to punish the criminal for the offences committed. There have been varied considerations during the incarceration of suspected offenders over the past decades with respect to duration of imprisonment, severity of punishment, and the regularity or rate of recurrence of imprisonment. In addition, critics of incarceration have also been debating about the motives for incarceration, its usefulness, and ability to transform criminals. Fierce debates have also risen about fairness during incarceration processes.

According to Raphael (2011), numerous questions have also been raised on the ethicality and morality of incarceration. These debates and arguments have led to consideration of alternative or substitute ways for punishing criminal offenders other than imprisonment or confinement in jails. These substitute ways for punishing criminals are called alternatives to incarceration. This essay reviews the various alternatives to incarceration that are currently practiced within the criminal justice systems.

For many years, the criminal justice and judicial systems have been limited to incarceration as the only way of punishing criminals. However, in the recent years, there has been a rapid increase in the rate of crimes. This has resulted into a rapid increase in the number of criminals being incarcerated in jails and prisons. It has also led to overcrowding in the prisons. As a consequence, the maintenance, management, and administration of prisons have become increasingly difficult, complex, and challenging. Similarly, the overcrowding of inmates in prisons has led to the emergence of various social vices such as homosexuality within the correctional facilities, discrimination of inmates based on their gender and race, physical abuse of inmates by their colleagues, and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera (United States, 2011). The federal and state governments have also been forced to spend billions of money to ensure that prisons are properly maintained, well managed, and appropriately administered. In addition, most people who were convicted and incarcerated were usually treated in a cruel and brutal manner. These challenges within the criminal justice and judicial systems led to the increased need to develop alternative ways of punishing persons who commit crimes in society.

Alternatives to Incarceration

An alternative to incarceration refers to any form of punishment or sentence that does not involve confinement within prisons and jails that is given to an individual who has been convicted of committing a crime. According to Javitse (2009), law enforcement officers such as the police and institutions of the criminal justice system are authorized by the federal and state laws to confine persons who have been convicted of committing criminal offences. However, there have been instances where individuals suspected of committing criminal offences are incarcerated without conviction or legitimate reasons. Incarceration has also been found to be less effective in deterring persons from committing crimes. Incarceration is also inhumane because it involves cruel treatment of offenders. Therefore, alternatives to incarceration such as conditional sentences, rehabilitation, boot camps, community service, suspension of sentences, probation, fines, house arrests, restitution, and educational sentencing programs have been adopted to overcome the challenges posed by incarceration during administration of justice.

Conditional Sentences

Conditional sentence is a condition where a convicted criminal is awarded punishments that do not require him to be within the prisons; for example, the convicted criminal may be involved in community work under certain conditions and requirements. Javitze (2009) also asserts that conditional sentences involve punishing the criminal outside the prison walls. However, various restrictions and conditions such as mandatory drug and substance abuse treatment, regular reporting to police officers and electronic monitoring may be imposed on the offender in order to prevent him from escaping or flying away.

Human rights activists and other proponents advocate for conditional sentences in preference to incarceration because it allows the offenders to be part of society, hence allowing them to develop ethical behaviors that conform to societal standards and values in addition to attaining personal growth and development. For instance, a conditional sentence would allow an offender to be with his family members, maintain his employment, or continue with education as he serves the sentence. This allows for social and personal growth and development of the offender. According to United States (2011), the use of conditional sentences has been made possible and more effective, efficient and reliable by the introduction of the Global Positioning System (GPS), tracking system that allows police officers to monitor electronically the physical location of the offenders.

Drug Rehabilitation

Drug rehabilitation refers to the process of subjecting persons who commit crimes as a result of increased dependency on drugs to restoration programs. It is often used among youths who commit crimes such as robbery, shoplifting and property theft under the influence of drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, and heroin. Drug rehabilitation is used to reform the offender through abstinence from drug use.

Boot Camps

A boot camp is a correctional facility where prisoners are treated like army cadets. According to Phillips (2009), the majority of inmates who are punished through involvement in boot camps are usually youths. Boot camps are founded on the assumption that youths usually get involved in criminal activities due to the lack of discipline, hence involving them in the boot camps would help in instilling discipline among the youths. Criminological researchers in the United States have also affirmed that boot camps are effective in reducing recidivism among offenders. This is because boot camps usually help in guiding the offenders away from criminal activities in the society. However, boot camps have been faced with management challenges and financial difficulties, thus rendering them less effective and efficient.

Community Service

A community service refers to a situation in which the offender is required by law to perform specific duties or works to the community without any payment or compensation. It usually involves the provision of free services to the community by the offender. Community services are used to discourage people from committing crimes that would affect the community as a whole.

Suspension of Sentences

Suspension of sentences refers to a process by which the judiciary uplifts or puts on hold the sentencing of an individual when he complies with certain requirements, for example, if the offender successfully completes a probation program.


Offenders are usually put on probation under a number of conditions such as regular reporting to the probation officer, abstaining from excessive use of alcohol, and refraining from travelling outside the state or respective jurisdiction without prior permission from the probation officer or any other relevant authority. People who are under probation may also be advised to keep away from specific places or people. The conditions for probation are often determined by the federal and state laws. All offenders under probation must comply with the set conditions and requirements. According to Lewis (2009), probation is often used for people who commit less serious crimes and misdemeanors for the first time. Probation is preferred to incarceration because it gives the offender a second chance to be part of the society.


Fines refer to punishments awarded by the criminal courts to individuals for commit less serious crimes such as shoplifting and bullying. They are usually imposed on first-time offenders to discourage them from recommitting the offences. Examples of crimes that are punishable through the imposition of fines include minor possession of drugs, shoplifting, violation of traffic rules, violation of fishing and gaming rules, and driving while drunk for the first time.

House Arrest

House arrest is when the offender is required by law to stay at home for a given period of time. House arrest is a form of detention that involves confining the offender at his place of residence. However, authorized outings such as going to work, seeking healthcare services, and attending authorized counseling and guidance services as per court orders are excluded in a house arrest. Criminals under house arrest usually have electronic devices for monitoring and tracking the physical movements and location of the offender.


Restitution refers to any form of legal compensation given to victims of crime by the offenders as reparation for losses or damages caused by the crime committed. Restitution also includes returning stolen property, replacing damaged property, and compensating victims of crime for physical injuries and economic or financial losses incurred in consequence of the committed offence. For example, the offender may cater for the costs of medical services received by the victim due to physical injuries sustained from violence during a robbery.

Educational Sentencing Programs

Educational sentencing programs refer to transformational programs that require offenders to attend mandatory trainings and classes that tackle underpinning issues and behavioral factors such as anger management, excessive drug abuse, and poor parenting that might have provoked the offender to commit the crimes. Educational sentencing programs are usually used in modification of behaviors and conducts of potential offenders. They are common among juvenile offenders.


In my opinion, I would prefer the above mentioned alternatives to incarceration to imprisonment due to a number of reasons. Firstly, these alternatives to incarceration give the judiciary more practical options for punishing criminals because different offenders commit different crimes which are distinctive and unique. Therefore, every offender should be punished differently because there is no particular punishment that is appropriate for all offences. In my view, each offender should be awarded appropriate punishment that sufficiently addresses the type of offence committed, based on the underlying causes of the offences.

Secondly, most alternatives to incarceration are cost effective, thus help in reducing the cost of providing justice in the society. For example, Cohn (2011) estimates that the cost of keeping an individual offender in the federal prisons is approximately twenty-six thousand U.S. dollars every year whereas the cost of rehabilitating an individual is nearly eight thousand dollars a year. Therefore, alternatives to incarceration are cheaper as compared to imprisonment. In addition, the alternatives to incarceration also help in reducing overcrowding within the correctional facilities.

Thirdly, alternatives to incarceration such as community service and house arrests often help in strengthening social ties among members of the society, for example, house arrests allow offenders to unite with family members such as spouses and children. Fourthly, alternatives to incarceration also enable offenders to achieve personal growth and development, for example, conditional sentences allow offenders to maintain their jobs or attend schools while serving their sentences. Similarly, community services also facilitate the provision of essential services such as agriculture to the community at no costs; hence improve the lifestyles of community members.

Last but not least, I would argue that the alternatives to incarceration are more effective in deterring crime in society. This is because the alternatives to incarceration adequately address the underlying issues such as poverty and drug abuse that encourage people to commit crimes.

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