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Alternatives to Prison

Prison is not the only form of punishment or accountability. Therefore, judges should have a range of potential sanctions available, including mid-level, community-based alternatives. Some countries have developed specialized courts which deal only with certain kinds of cases (for example, "drug courts"). These courts have a variety of treatment and accountability options available to them.

Prisons are appropriate when dealing with someone who poses a danger to the community. Because many, if not most, people sentenced to prison do not pose that sort of danger, there is ample opportunity for governments to establish non-prison sanctions.

Studies have shown that there are a number of benefits to doing this. They can be less expensive than prison, although they do require resources. They can produce reductions in recidivism (repeat crime). They can address particular needs of the offender (drug dependency, for example) that can be shown to lead to criminal behaviour.

In addition to alternative sanctions, drug courts and other problem-solving courts have proven to be effective. These are courts in which offenders receive intensive substance abuse and mental health treatment, case management, drug testing, and probation supervision. The  offenders appear in drug court to report on progress and problems. The judge has special expertise in the problems of drug use and addiction.

Community service has been used effectively in Africa as a way of reducing prison populations because it was specifically targeted for offenders who would otherwise have been imprisoned.

What is a community court? How the model is being adapted across the United States. Julius Lang. (2011) Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Assistance.
From the report by Julius Lang: Over the past decade and a half, cities and towns across the United States and around the world have sought to test the proposition that courts can play a role in solving complex neighborhood problems and building stronger communities. Since the 1993 opening of New York City’s Midtown Community Court, dozens of cities have created their own community courts. At their outset, each court must address the following set of questions:
New Zealand police pre-charge warnings alternative resolutions evaluation report. Justice O'Reilly. (2010). Wellington: New Zealand Police.
From the report by Justine O'Reilly: This is the final evaluation report of the pre-charge warning initiative operating across the Auckland Region since November 2009, following a pilot undertaken in Waitematä District.
Evaluation of the Intensive Alternatives to Custody pilot. Sarah Hansbury (editor). (2011). London: Ministry of Justice
From the report edited by Sarah Hansbury: The Intensive Alternatives to Custody (IAC) pilot programme ran from 2008/09 to 2010/11 to test the use of intensive community orders in diverting offenders from short-term custodial sentences.
Portugal's drug policy pays off; US eyes lessons. Barry Hatton & Martha Mendoza. (2010). The Kansas City Star.
From the article by Barry Hatton and Martha Mendoza: These days, Casal Ventoso is an ordinary blue-collar community - mothers push baby strollers, men smoke outside cafes, buses chug up and down the cobbled main street. Ten years ago, the Lisbon neighborhood was a hellhole, a "drug supermarket" where some 5,000 users lined up every day to buy heroin and sneaked into a hillside honeycomb of derelict housing to shoot up. In dark, stinking corners, addicts - some with maggots squirming under track marks - staggered between the occasional corpse, scavenging used, bloody needles.
Crime and rehabilitation: one woman's story. Mark Townsend (2010). The Observer. 5 December.
From the article by Mark Townsend: Victoria Twiddy was 17 when she was first convicted – for shoplifting. Far from acting as a deterrent, the resulting community sentence was the prelude to her life of crime. During the next decade she was arrested more than 20 times, amassing 11 convictions, five for theft, three for assault, two each for criminal damage and breaching a court order.
Human Rights and pre-trial detention. A handbook of international standards relating to pre-trial detention. Professional Training Series No. 3. (1994). Centre for Human Rights Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Branch.
From the handbook prepared by the Centre or Human Rights: The handbook is meant to increase awareness of the international standards which exist in the area of pre-trial detention as well as of interpretive material relating to those standards. To the extent that the handbook refers to regional instruments or to treaties ratified by only certain countries, those instruments vary in their legal application to different countries. None the less, the handbook provides practical guidelines for implementation of the standards based on the opinions of experts and the experience of countries in regard to pre-trial detention. The handbook is designed to reflect flexibility, offering advisory, rather than compulsory guidelines to criminal justice practitioners.
The socioeconomic impact of pretrial detention. Open Society Justice Initiative. (2010). [EN]
From the research report by the Open Society Justice Initiative: The socioeconomic impact of excessive pretrial detention is profound, affecting not just the individuals detained, but their families, communities, and even States. As this paper seeks to demonstrate, that impact is felt most keenly by the poor. The poor are more likely to come into conflict with the law, more likely to be confined pending trial, and less able to afford the “three Bs” of pretrial release: bribe, bail, or barrister.
The non-custodial sentencing project from NICRO.
This web link outlines the importance of non-custodial sentences and provides information on the project in South Africa organised by NICRO.
Establishing drug treatment courts : strategies, experiences and preliminary outcomes. Caroline S. Cooper, et. al. (2010). Prepared for the Drugs Summit: European, Latin American & Caribbean Mayors and Cities. 21-23 April 2010, Lugo, SPain. [EN]
From the report by Caroline S. Cooper, et. al.: The purpose of this report is to describe the strategies that have been developed to establish Drug Treatment Courts in countries that have implemented them, the services they are providing, the target populations they are serving, and the impact they have had to date, along with “lessons learned” that may be useful to others embarking on a DTC initiative.
Collateral costs: Incarceration's effect on economic mobility. (2010) The Per Charitable Trusts. [EN]
From the report by the Pew Charitable Trusts: Incarceration affects an inmate’s path to prosperity. Collateral Costs quantifies the size of that effect, not only on offenders but on their families and children. Before being incarcerated more than two-thirds of male inmates were employed and more than half were the primary source of financial support for their children.7 Incarceration carries significant and enduring economic repercussions for the remainder of the person’s working years. This report finds that former inmates work fewer weeks each year, earn less money and have limited upward mobility. These costs are borne by offenders’ families and communities, and they reverberate across generations.
Making things right: Meaningful community service for juvenile offenders. Douglas Thomas and Mary Hunninen. (2008). Technical Assistance to the Juvenile Court Bulletin. National Center for Juvenile Justice. [EN]
Community service is a common strategy used by juvenile courts and probation departments as part of their strategies for dealing with juvenile offenders. The quality of the community service experience can range from punitive to redemptive. The position taken in this Special Projects Bulletin is the community service is an important and valuable tool and that meaningful community service can go a long way toward increasing offender accountability, restoring victims, re-connecting youth and community, and making things right again. The Bulletin defines and describes community service, makes a distinction between voluntary community service and mandated community service, and addresses the effectiveness of community service. Community service efforts in three jurisdictions are highlighted – Clark County, Washington, Deschutes County, OR and Lehigh County, PA. Each of the jurisdictions providese insights into understanding meaningful community service and provide tips for designing and implementing meaningful community service projects. (excerpt)
A report on the government's strategy for diverting women away from crime. (2009). London: Ministry of Justice. [EN]
We have made good progress with the implementation of our strategy and can already see a reduction in the number of women in prison and an encouraging increase in the use of community orders for women. With this promising reduction in the numbers of women in prison and development of a network of community provision we are moving swiftly towards our aim of a sustained different approach to diverting women away from crime. This report sets out our progress and details our plans to consolidate delivery of our existing strategy, to invest further in community provision, and to make more widespread changes which will aim to stop women committing crime and entering the criminal justice system. (excerpt)
Consider the alternatives planning. Planning and implementing detention alternatives. Paul DeMuro. (1999). Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.
This report presents the experiences of and lessons learned by the JDAI sites regarding the development of effective alternatives to secure detention. Each site expanded or enhanced its program repertoire as part of its detention system reform efforts. Some sites built an entirely new continuum; others filled key programmatic gaps. Taken together, their experiences help to clarify ways to plan, implement, and monitor effective alternatives to detention. (excerpt)
The Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment Program. Impact of program participation on re-offending by defendants with a drug use problem. Rohan Lulham. (2009). Crime and Justice Bulletin. NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. [EN]
This bulletin reports on the evaluation of re-offending outcomes for the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) drug diversion program. MERIT provides defendants in NSW Local Courts with the option of undertaking formal drug treatment while on bail. Re-offending outcomes for a cohort of 2,396 defendants who participated in the MERIT program were compared with a comparison group of defendants who did not participate in the MERIT program but who broadly met the eligibility criteria. To estimate the impact of the program we used a treatment effects model with correction for selection bias. Acceptance into the MERIT program, regardless of completion, was found to significantly reduce the number of defendants committing any theft re-offence by an estimated four percentage points. Acceptance and completion of the MERIT program significantly reduced the number of defendants committing any type of offence by an estimated 12 percentage points, and any theft re-offence by four percentage points. This evaluation provides strong support that participation in the MERIT program reduces defendants’ propensity to commit theft offences and, for those who complete the program, substantially reduces their propensity to commit any type of re-offence. (author's abstract)
European initiatives for harmonisation and minimum standards in the field of community sanctions and measures. Christine Morgenstern (2009) European Journal of Probation. 1(2): 124-137. [EN]
The article addresses the question how far European initiatives on Community Sanctions and Measures as well as the attitude towards them and their implementation by the Member States reflect “the punitive turn” or rather show a tendency to “resist punitiveness” in European penal policies. After presenting the Council of Europe’s European Rules on Community Sanctions and Measures (ER CSM) of 1992 its provision regarding the co-operation and consent of the offender is considered in more detail. The change of penal climate in the Member States and its reflection by the update of the ER CSM in 2000 is described then, using the example of sanctions of indeterminate duration and Electronic Monitoring. Finally, the European Union’s Framework Decision on the supervision of probation measures and alternative sanctions (adopted 2008) and possible obstacles with regard to its implementation are introduced briefly. (author's abstract)
Reconviction patterns of offenders managed in the community: A 48-months follow-up analysis. Arul Nadesu (2008). New Zealand: Department of Corrections. [EN]
This report summarises patterns of reconviction and imprisonment, over a 48 months period, amongst almost 35,000 offenders who started community sentences (Supervision, Community Work) and orders (front-end Home Detention) during the 12 months period 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2003. The analysis reveals important differences of reconviction behaviour of different sub-groups of offenders who started community sentences in 2002/03. Offender characteristics such as gender, age at start of sentence, ethnicity, offence type and offenders’ previous criminal history are each examined with reference to reconviction and imprisonment.
The Orthodox Church supporting a prisoner (BBC) Apr 2010
This short video explains how the Orthodox church in Georgia is caring for and supporting a prisoner.
Downscaling prisons: Lessons from four States. Judith Greene and Marc Mauer. (2010). Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. [EN]
This report contains a description of the many pragmatic reforms and policies that have helped to produce these prison population reductions. What is clear in each of these cases is that the reductions only came about through conscious efforts to change policies and practices, that these states relied on many different types of reform initiatives to improve their criminal justice systems, and that these initiatives had the twin goals of reducing the prison population and promoting cost-effective approaches to public safety. (excerpt)
Managing offenders on community corrections orders. Victorian Auditor-General's Report. (2009). Melbourn: Victoria Auditor-General's Office. [EN]
Managing offenders in the community provides a range of financial and social benefits. It is a cost-effective alternative to imprisonment. It also enables offenders to maintain connection with their community, by retaining employment, social networks and accommodation. Offenders can also undertake programs designed to address their behaviour and reduce the likelihood of them re-offending. Community Correctional Services (CCS), within Corrections Victoria, is responsible for managing offenders on community orders. Its primary purpose is to enhance community safety primarily through a range of offender management processes and services, including risk and need assessments, program referrals and supervision to ensure offenders are complying with the conditions of their orders. (excerpt)
Best practice principles for the diversion of juvenile offenders. Rachel Crasnow, et. al., (2001). Human Rights Brief No. 5. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. (Australia). [EN]
Diversion is the term applied to various measures to ‘divert’ offenders from the formal criminal justice system. Several diversionary options exist for young offenders in Australia, although the extent of their use varies considerably among jurisdictions. These include verbal and written warnings, formal cautions, victim-offender or family conferencing and referral to formal or informal community-based programs. However, this list does not exhaust the range of appropriate diversionary options which could be developed. (excerpt)
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