When somebody is convicted of something he or she was accused of, there are several outcomes that can occur. Jail is just one possible repercussion of being found guilty in the eyes of the court. An “alternative to incarceration” is any kind of punishment other than time in prison or jail that can be given to a person who commits a crime. Frequently, punishments other than prison or jail time place serious demands on offenders and provide them with intensive court and community supervision. Just because a certain punishment does not involve time in prison or jail does not mean it is “soft on crime” or a “slap on the wrist.”
Alternatives to incarceration can repair harms suffered by victims, provide benefits to the community, treat the drug-addicted or mentally ill and rehabilitate offenders. Alternatives can also reduce prison and jail costs and prevent additional crimes in the future. By providing bail bonds, we do our part to support alternatives to incarceration by allowing arrested individuals to get out of jail and go about their regular lives while waiting for their court date. The prison abolition movement attempts to eliminate prisons and the prison system. Prison abolitionists see prison as an ineffective way to decrease crime and reform criminals. Many proposed alternatives to prisons arose from the prison abolition movement and remain popular today because:
- They 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.
- They save taxpayers money. It costs over $28,000 to keep one person in federal prison for one year. Alternatives to incarceration are cheaper, prevent prison crowding and save taxpayers millions.
- They strengthen communities by keeping people with their families, in their neighborhoods and jobs, and allowing them to earn money, pay taxes and contribute to society.
- They 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.
The public supports alternatives to incarceration. Eight in ten (77%) adults believe that alternatives to incarceration (probation, restitution, community service and rehabilitative services) are the most appropriate sentence for nonviolent, non-serious offenders and that prison or jail are appropriate only if these alternatives fail.