Per capita, incarceration rates in the United States are incredibly high when compared with other countries. In dealing with the accused, prison or jail time is a common form of punishment across the US. There are, however, many other ways to punish or rehabilitate offenders without incarceration.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s “Handbook of basic principles and promising practices on Alternatives to Imprisonment” states that imprisonment, especially for vulnerable populations and those accused of minor crimes, has been deemed counterproductive for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. This handbook promotes the notion that governments should search for alternatives to incarceration and emphasizes the idea that prison should be used as a last resort in the criminal justice process.
Specifically for drug crimes, a more effective method of discipline would be to consider an offender for a drug rehabilitation program rather than incarceration. This alternative is beneficial in not only decreasing the crowded prison population, but also helping to rehabilitate the offender in preparation for a more successful reintegration back into society.
Probation is another important alternative to incarceration. Probation is a court-ordered period of correctional supervision in the community rather than in a prison or jail. Probation can be applied as a direct sentence or on a conditional basis. When probation is conditional, a prison sentence will apply if specific probation conditions are not satisfied. This alternative form of punishment helps to decrease the prison population, which may help to relieve overcrowding and reduce the overall costs of prison operations.
Another positive related to alternative methods to incarceration like drug rehabilitation centers and probation is that both generally result in lower recidivism rates when compared with offenders who are released from prison. Because offenders who are released from prison typically have a much more difficult time adjusting back to life outside of prison and to society in general, their recidivism rates are typically much higher.
It is essential for communities to consider using alternative methods to incarceration in order to increase rehabilitation for the offender, decrease recidivism rates, reduce overcrowding in prisons, and save taxpayers money.