Alternatives to Incarceration


Incarceration refers to the act of putting an offender in prison.  In the United States, there are distinct systems of dealing with minor and adult law offenders, the age of majority ranges from 16 to 19.Generally, juvenile offenders have legal protection and thus receive lighter sentencing as compared to adults. Majority of incarcerated juvenile offenders are status offenders. This means that they have committed acts that are not considered as crimes for adults. These acts include truancy from school, running away from home, violating curfews, chronic disobedience of parents and even smoking cigarettes. The rate of juvenile confinement in the United States is at an alarming rate adding to the economic burden of maintaining these prison facilities. As such the government is considering other methods of correction for these offenders. This paper seeks to discuss some of these methods.

Incarceration has put a lot of pressure on the available juvenile detention and confinement facilities. The increased rate of juvenile incarceration has resulted in crowding of these facilities According to Austin, Johnson and Weitzer (2005), in almost all juvenile confinement facilities, the number of residents was more than the available beds. Crowding in these facilities can bring about detrimental effects, as it easily results in violence. The delinquents may sustain injuries resulting from interpersonal conflicts. Also the overcrowding of these facilities is of great economical consequence as more of the tax payers money is used to maintain these facilities. It is very expensive to fed, educate, treat and employ more staff for the large numbers of detained youth (Austin, Johnson & Weitzer, 2005).

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Youth confinement in these facilities also greatly alienates them from the society. This makes it difficult for these youth to readjust to the society upon release. Also the youths who have been detained for a significant period of time lag behind in education and career development. Additionally, these facilities only aim at helping the individual change certain behavior and conform to societal rules as the treatment programs in the facilities are not designed to provide interventions for chronic problems such as drug abuse. Many youth in the facilities have mental disorders that go undiagnosed as it is difficult to obtain timely treatment in such crowded facilities. As such alternatives such as probation, community service and restorative justice are some of the correction methods being employed to deal with these juvenile offenders (Austin, Johnson & Weitzer, 2005).

In a probation program, the minor is released back to the society with limited freedom and is expected to report to a probation officer periodically. This is the most common alternative to incarceration. The offender is expected to obey all the general terms of the probation. These terms may include; obeying curfews, keeping off certain company, and attending counseling. The juvenile may also be required to attend special programs such as anger management classes that will provide extra monitoring and evaluation. If the minor violates the probation conditions then the probation may be revoked and a harsher punishment be imposed (Michon, 2017). 

Also the offender can be ordered to provide unpaid services to a certain local community for a particular number of hours. This is referred to as community service. The services provided are an alternative to paying a fine; each hour reduces the fine by a certain amount until it is fully paid. Restorative justice is another correction method that focuses on repairing the harm caused by and provides healing to all impacted by the crime. It includes coming together of the offender, victim, criminal justice representatives and community to pass a sentence that aims to repair the harm caused by the offender. It allows for dialogue and reconciliation between the victim and the offender and teaches the minor to take responsibility for their actions (Dui Hua, 2008).

Alternatives to incarceration can be successfully employed to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and enable them develop important skills such as responsibility and anger management thus; making them better adjusted community members. They are a more economic way of dealing with juvenile offenders as they are cheaper than maintaining the offenders in detention facilities. They also do not separate the individual from their family and the minor can continue with their studies alongside correction for the committed offense.  In conclusion, incarceration alternatives have not only proved to be cost saving but also have had a positive impact in the wholesome development of the offender and are thus an effective correction method. 

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  1. Austin, J., Johnson, K. D., & Weitzer, R.(2005). Alternatives to the secure detention and confinement of juvenile offenders. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 
  2. Dui Hua. (2008). With intent to reform: Alternatives to juvenile detention, incarceration. 
  3. Michon, K. (2017). Juvenile court sentencing options: Typical punishment and penalties for juvenile delinquents and youth offenders. Nolo
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