Essay: Criminal penalties and alternatives to incarceration

Modern trends in criminal justice over the past few decades exhibit the need for some criminal penalties amid the extremes of imprisonment and regular probation. Usually, increases in crime have been retorted with increases in imprisonment.

This has developed a counterproductive model that often lead to overcrowded prisons and jails, early release of potentially dangerous criminals, and corrections budgets that eat away state funds. In an effort to be hard on crime, many jurisdictions are making their incarceration standards harsher.

Regular probation isn’t the answer either. The security of the public can be seriously endangered by sentencing to probation. Unfortunately, probation often serves as a delta in sentencing for congested prisons. This causes sentencing to become much undefined. Because of this ambiguity, potential offenders cannot be sure how they will be disciplined if caught lawbreaking. In corrections, would be crooks need to know that at any time they commit a crime, a just punishment will follow. Intermediate sanctions give judicial and corrections personnel new ways to deal with trends in crime that’s more tailored to the crime committed.

Intermediate sanctions are meant to be used as a means that is not as harsh as incarceration, but more severe than regular probation. The goal of these sanctions are to allow courts to have more options, have punishments better fit the crime, and to be more cost effective for the criminal justice system. In addition, they provide a vehicle for prosecutors and sentencing panels to contrive specific desired outcomes for each case. They can be used effectively as alternatives to prison, or alternatives to probation.

As alternatives to going to a penitentiary, intermediate sanctions allow for greater rehabilitation through community interaction, become cost effective, and often have less damaging side effects for offenders. As alternatives to probation, although they regularly cost more, they offer better insurance of public safety, and in many cases minimize recidivism. The sanctions are divided into two categories: Those enforced by the judge who wasn’t satisfied with their sentencing options and those that are more enforced by probation officials. The sanctions include Pretrial Diversion, Fines, Community Service, Restitution, Treatment Centers, Intensive supervision, House Arrest/E-monitoring, and Shock incarceration.

Pretrial diversion usually targets petty offenders that are in possession of drugs and first-time offenders. Criminals who is selected for pretrial diversion enters into an agreement with the District (local), State or U.S. (federal) attorney’s office, pledging to meet certain conditions and to refrain from criminal activity for a specified period of time. Because participation is voluntary, persons may decline to enter the program and instead exercise their right to proceed with a trial on the charges against them.

According to Clear, Reisig, Cole & Petrosino (2012) over $1 billion in monetary fines have been collected annually in the United States (Clear, Reisig, Cole & Petrosino, 2012). The National Institute of Justice recently published a study of day fines as part of a project dealing with misdemeanor cases adjudicated in a Staten Island, N.Y., criminal court. Findings from this study suggest that day fines were collected with a high degree of success even though the fines imposed under this program were larger on average than those imposed under a fixed fine system. The project functioned well enough that the researchers suggested that it be adopted throughout the state of New York.

Judges can impose on an offender to complete meaningful service that can help their community. This can have a helpful effect on both the wrongdoer and the community abroad. The community can have access to cheap/free labor, & offenders can gain skills and experience, as well as network with employers.

Restitution involves the offender paying money to the victim, their family, or a fund that aid those who were victims in similar offenses. Just as with any other criminal sentence, many jurisdictions prohibit offenders who have not paid their restitution to register to vote, participate on a jury, or run for office, based on a finding that a failure to pay equates to a failure to complete a sentence. Unsurprisingly, many individuals with criminal convictions have difficulty finding employment upon the finish of their incarceration. It is not uncommon for criminal defendants to lose the jobs they have following their conviction and sentencing, even if they do not receive a sentence of jail time. Although finding and maintaining employment is a condition of almost every sentence, meeting this requirement is one of the most difficult for most convicted defendants
Intensive Supervision involves daily meeting with a probation officer. The meeting typically last no more than 10 to 15 minutes. Probation officers prefer to keep the meetings brief so that the probationer can continue to become more positively productive, making it more of the offender’s responsibility to become law abiding. According to Bennett (1995), studies of intensive supervision programs (ISPs) in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Georgia, ISPs are effective (Bennett, 1995). The successful reduction of recidivism that resulted from these activities points to the need to combine surveillance, as well as control strategies in order to deliver various types of service.

In New Jersey, ISP was used to take felons out of prison and put them under probation supervision. Although the administrative process was quite burdensome, the researchers concluded that the program was more cost effective than imprisonment and parole and that it freed up prison beds without increasing backsliding. Bennett recognized Rand Corporation studies, which have revealed that it is often difficult to establish and maintain intensive supervision programs. They found little difference in outcomes between those under intensive supervision and those under regular supervision where adequate probation was generally available (Bennett, 1995). The factor that seemed to be the most crucial in the whole affair was the lack of treatment delivery for those probationers who had narcotics-related problems.
In Georgia, probationers are to meet with their officer usually four or five times a week, not including community service monitoring and employment verification. Special measures showed that those selected for the program were offenders who would ordinarily be sent to prison. The positive outcome suggested significant cost savings along with satisfactory probation adjustment without high levels of serious reoffending.

In Massachusetts, they targeted offenders who were categorized as high risks for failure within the immediate future. Probation officers developed individualized intervention strategies on a case-by-case basis and contacted each probationer at least 10 times a month, verified employment twice a month, and comprehensively monitored and imposed probation conditions.

With technology, sentences can be enforced in ways where they can serve their term at their home. In cases of house arrest, offenders will be sentenced to a term but the term would be served in their own residence. If an offender has employment, the court could give more leeway in what boundaries the offender may have in their area.

Shock incarceration is supposed to serve as a sterner deterrent rather than a short prison stint. Boot camps in particular are popular right now, even though there is no definite proof that they reduce reoffending. However, some studies, including the National Institute of Justice’s update on shock incarceration programs, suggest that the outcomes following boot camp are no better or worse than after a period of incarceration and that employing boot camps may result in offenders being incarcerated for shorter periods of time.
With the variety of punishments the criminal justice system can impose on offenders, the can make punishments more suitable for the crime committed instead of just shipping people to prisons. With the benefits of intermediate sanctions, there is plenty of room for improvement. Research has provided a good deal of information that can benefit administrators in planning intermediate sanction and community correction programs. However, it is obvious that more research needs to be done to help practitioners determine not only what programs work but also which aspects of each program play critical roles in observed outcomes.

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