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Why alternative sentences are better than jail when it comes to reducing recidivism

It’s fairly common knowledge that mass incarceration doesn’t help to reduce recidivism, which is a term that refers to a person returning to the criminal justice system for a new crime after they’ve been convicted of a previous offense. It’s possible that alternative sentences can have a greater impact on recidivism than sending people to prison ever could. In fact, prison may actually lead to more repeat offenses.

Alternative sentences, which include programs like probation or drug courts, focus on helping the person convicted of a crime to live a life without any criminal activity. The participants are out in the community but are closely supervised while they’re in the program. They have specific requirements that they must meet to be considered successful in the program. That integration into society is important because the participants are learning real-life skills that can help them throughout the rest of their life.

Conversely, a person who is incarcerated doesn’t have that opportunity. Instead, they learn the ways of the facility they are in. This doesn’t help them to learn to live a crime-free life. It may actually teach the opposite. People who are incarcerated are housed with other individuals who were also convicted of crimes — and they sometimes learn negative behavior from each other.

Oftentimes, alternative sentence programs forbid the participant from being around others who are convicted of crimes. This difference might be a considerable factor in why recidivism is reduced more through alternative sentencing than through incarceration. 

Plus, the negative mental health consequences of prison must also be considered. A person who’s in prison may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health conditions that must be addressed if they’re going to successfully rejoin society. That kind of assistance is seldom available behind bars.

If you’ve been charged with a crime or your loved one is facing charges, talk to your attorney to find out whether alternative sentencing is possible.