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Criminal Justice: Importance of Alternatives to Incarceration as a Means of Controlling Prison Populations

3 pages
704 words
Middlebury College
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Incarceration has been the main punishment for offenders in the United States for long. In fact, currently, over two million people are behind bars (Freudenberg & Heller, 2016). However, the cost of incarceration is becoming unbearable. It is estimated that the Americans are spending over $1 trillion each year to run the prisons (Freudenberg & Heller, 2016). It is for the increasing costs of incarceration and overcrowding of the prisons that alternative sentencing is being encouraged to reduce prison populations. Alternatives to incarceration are crucial as they send offenders to correctional agencies instead of prisons and also reduce the chance of re-offending which altogether reduces the prison numbers.

Alternative sentencing introduces alternate forms of punishment to traditional sanctioning which reduce the number of people being held behind bars. For example, in the New York, alternative sentencing has created community-based alternatives to incarceration such as job training and drug treatment (Alarid, 2016). These programs undertake the responsibility of rehabilitating the offenders instead of having them locked up in the prisons. This initiative has seen the New York judges send so many offenders to drug courts, reducing the lengthy prison sentences that they would have otherwise served. By reducing the number of people sent for long-term imprisonment, the alternative sentencing has largely reduced the number of people being incarcerated. In fact, New York jails have recorded a decrease in the number of inmates by 40% since 1991 (Alarid, 2016). This shows that alternative sentencing is a good initiative to control the prison populations.

Similarly, alternative sentencing reduces numbers of people being imprisoned through reduced re-offending. According to Alarid (2016), a significant drop in the number of inmates over the years is attributed to a drop in re-offending among those who were admitted to drug treatment facilities for instance. Recidivism has been shown to be high among the incarcerated people. According to Matthews & Feagans (2015), 67% of prisoners released are rearrested after three years. The fact that alternative sentencing reduces the number of people re-offending combined with the reality that incarcerated people show a high chance of recidivism leaves one with the conclusion that alternative punishments are important in reducing prison populations by preventing re-arrest of the offenders. Alternate punishments rehabilitate the offenders and allow them to change their behaviors so that when they are released, they are reformed citizens.

The rise of alternative sentencing has given rise to numerous correctional programs coordinated by correctional agencies. Nevertheless, the administration of these correctional agencies has been widely impacted by alternative punishments issued to the offenders. The officials running the agencies have been required to ensure deterrence in the interest of the community (Seiter, 2016). The community members require that crime is reduced and the correctional agencies should play a role in ensuring that. Also, some states such as California have come up with programs that require the correctional agencies officials to direct offenders into alternative forms of punishment such as probation and parole (Seiter, 2016). This way, the administrators assume new roles of directing offenders to other programs unlike before when they dealt with offenders within their programs. This has necessitated the need of integrating policies and practices among the administrations involved in criminal justice (Seiter, 2016). For instance, correctional agencies may have to adopt policies from state governments to guide in the delivery of punishment to the offenders.

Therefore, alternative sentencing is crucial to controlling prison populations by reducing the number of people sent to prison and preventing recidivism. Alternative sentencing impacts on the administration of correctional agencies in how the officials act regarding the offenders such as redirecting them into other programs. It is necessary that a framework outlining the responsibilities of the officials involved in running the correctional agencies is issued by the criminal justice system to guide the entire administration of the agencies.



Alarid, L. F. (2016). Community based corrections. Cengage Learning.

Freudenberg, N., & Heller, D. (2016). A review of opportunities to improve the health of people involved in the criminal justice system in the United States. Annual review of public health, 37, 313-333.

Matthews, H. A., & Feagans, D. (2015). Massachusetts Department of Correction Three-Year Recidivism Study: A Descriptive Analysis of the January-July 2011 Releases and Correctional Recovery Academy Participation. Massachusetts Department of Correction, Research and Planning Division.

Seiter, R. P. (2016). Corrections: An introduction. Prentice Hall.


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