By Robert McGale
Alternative sentencing is gaining acceptance in today’s judicial system. The county jails and state prisons are filled to over-capacity. In some prisons, portions of the prison general population are crammed into large auditoriums. Fights erupt often, and prison guards face many dangers. Something proactive needed to be done to decrease the number of people incarcerated in America’s penal institutions.
Rehabilitation versus Correction
Prisons used to be institutions for rehabilitating felons to eventually re-enter society and become productive citizens. For the most part, this did not happen. Inmate drug programs were abysmal, million dollar failures. Prisons in the U.S.A. evolved into revolving doors for drug offenders and other felons. In one state, the prison system was, for decades, called the Department of Rehabilitation. It was ultimately renamed the Department of Corrections because nobody was getting rehabilitated.
Drug Court Instead of the State Penitentiary
Drug Court is an alternative sentence option with a long waiting list. When a drug offender appears before the judge at his or her arraignment, the Public Defender requests Drug Court in lieu of serving time in the state penitentiary. The defendant is put on a waiting list. When the drug offender’s name reaches the top of the waiting list, he or she begins participating in Drug Court.
A large treatment facility is contracted by the state to do drug rehabilitation, and a commissioner or judge is designated to preside over the Drug Court Program. Monday through Thursday of each week Drug Court participants attend outpatient drug rehabilitation where they are taught techniques in relapse prevention and undergo other addiction treatment and behavioral therapy. Drug Court participants learn how to confront daily situations without the use of drugs.
All Drug Court participants are drug tested at random during the week. Those that test positive for drugs are sentenced by the judge to a week in the county jail. A Drug Court participant is permitted to have two positive drug tests, but on the third positive test, the drug offender is sentenced to state prison to serve the remainder of his or her sentence.
All Drug Court members attend court on Friday. Members are also promoted to higher levels of treatment while in front of the judge on Fridays. When a Drug Court member has completed the entire program, which is usually around 18 months long, a graduation is held. Drug Court has a much lower recidivism rate than incarceration.
More Options in Alternative Sentencing
Another alternative sentence is the Work Release Program. Inmates are released during the day to work and then return to prison at night. Some states enable felons to serve their jail time on the week-ends. Community service and the installation of a breathalyzer device in an alcohol offender’s car are two other very common alternative sentences. House arrest, in conjunction with the wearing of an ankle device, has proven to be effective in curbing crime and decreasing prison overcrowding.
Robert McGale is a law enthusiast since experiencing a difficult time a few years ago. He is currently working on his law degree at Osgoode Hall Law School and interning at a Toronto criminal law office. If you have been charged with a criminal offense he recommends contacting Morrie Luft, Criminal Defence Lawyer.