Caulkins & Chandler (2006) define incarceration as the act of detaining or confining a person in a prison for a long duration of time. It could be a life sentence or a house arrest, as long as it keeps the person away from society. Incarceration can be viewed to be more of a punishment than a correction and that is why other alternatives like probation are preferred. This paper discusses the management of these alternatives to incarceration.

According to Harrison and Allen (2002), the United States of America is ranked the highest in incarceration rates in the entire world with nearly seven hundred and forty three adults out of a population of one hundred thousand being incarcerated every year. These high rates of incarceration have not worked to reduce the ever rising crime rates. In Berman’s (1999) view, this is what led to the United States Congress advising federal judges not to think that incarceration is the best and appropriate tool for rehabilitation and correction.

Incarceration Issues

The law enforcement agencies argue that, even though it is harmful to an individual who is harmful to the society, incarceration will reduce the impact of his harm to the society. They note that hardcore criminals and people that are dangerous to the society have been dealt away with by giving them no opportunity to commit crime. In addition, it has been used to punish criminals for their crimes as well as to prevent other people from committing crime. According to Clear (2007), this has been possible by scaring them with the possibility of life imprisonment, used as a tool to rehabilitate criminals. Violent criminals or offenders are normally housed inside a prison making the general public much safe.

However, Clear (2007) notes that incarceration has been used effectively on criminals like sexual offenders, drug and human traffickers, serial killers, and political criminals among others. More often than not, individuals convicted of felony are incarcerated in facilities like the state or federal prisons. Criminals convicted of lesser misdemeanor crimes usually serve short duration sentences in county or local city jails. Convicted juveniles are likewise confined but to separate housings from the adults, possibly, to a separate juvenile facility. Clear (2007) argues that despite the many benefits of incarceration, it is harmful to the offender and is expensive to the government.

Incarceration further denies the prisoner his rights; for example, concerns about prison rape have been common today. Struckman-Johnson (2000) argues that nearly twenty percent of male convicts in Midwestern prisons have been pressurized into having sexual intercourse during their incarceration. In addition, seven percent of them have confirmed that they had been raped while in the U.S. incarceration facility. Factors that contributed to this prison rape and coercion rates, according to Struckman-Jonson (2000), were issues like large population of inmates, racial conflicts, poor barracks housing facilities, poor security, and the risk of having too many inmates incarcerated for the same crime in one place.

Similar research by Williams (2007) further  reveal that nearly twenty to forty percent of all American prisoners suffer from venereal diseases like Hepatitis C. Worse still, the correctional medical services given to them is limited since it is done with an aim to make and increase profits rather than help them. Gang violence also rocks the prisons since the gang member that are jailed keep their gang affiliations and identities. This is possible from the fact that they are incarcerated in the same housings. Somehow during the interrogation and examination process, the prison wardens regroup them together again within the prisons.

These happening, according to Clear (2007), makes the prisons be more of institutions of a higher and better criminal learning than rehabilitation centers. The result of this is that incarceration does not act to reduce recidivism but rather encourages it even further. Prisons in the United States are overcrowded due to incarceration, a good example being California’s thirty three prisons. Aviram (2010) says that these prisons hold one hundred and seven thousand inmates; seventy thousand in excess of their one hundred thousand holding capacity.

Possible Alternatives to Incarceration

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The government has been criticized for carelessly incarcerating prisoners making the United States incarceration rates increase with every rise in crime. A good portion of the prisoners incarcerated have done non violent crimes or are victimless offenders. Gottfredson & Exum (2002) support this claim by asserting that twenty percent of all incarcerated prisoners have been jailed for drug offenses. These extraordinary rates of incarceration in the United States have wrecked a number of families, individuals, and communities.  In addition, they have sapped the strength of the nation as a whole. It is for this reason that alternatives to incarceration have been proposed to help rehabilitate offenders.

These alternatives to incarceration include specific and special courts, probation, enlisting in the army, and community sanctions among others. According to Luong and Wormith (2011), probation has been viewed as an effective alternative to incarceration. For this reason, it has been effective in rehabilitating offenders convicted of less severe or non-violent crimes. It is carried out by making the offenders go through a supplemental program like a community service or even drug treatment plans. It is only after the offender has failed to meet the terms of the probation, which is rare in normal circumstances, that he is taken to prison.

Probation is effective in that it gives the first time offenders an opportunity to turn away from the pattern of crime that they are trying to develop. Gottfredson & Exum (2002) approve of this by arguing that probation gives the criminals the opportunity to receive education, counseling, or a targeted training. This alternative to incarceration is very effective in rehabilitating offenders who have been addicted to drug use. This is in view of the fact that doing it with drug treatment allows them to come out clean and sober by the end of the probation program. Embracing probation will be a positive means of relieving the already crowded and congested prisons in the United States (Venderzyl, 2009).

Apart from probation, Gottfredson & Exum (2002) propose the use of drug treatments courts as alternative to incarceration for nonviolent offenders and drug involved criminals. They further propose the use of physical or chemical incapacitation means like castration to rehabilitate criminals. According to Gottfredson & Exum (2002), the chronic criminals like habitual sex offenders can be physically castrated to reduce their chances of committing crime. This is done by denying them the chance of fulfilling their sexual urge in the wrong way through complete inhibition of their sexual organs. Making physical castration compulsory will be effective in reducing recidivism rates and consequently reduce incarceration rates.

Another major alternative is to focus on community correction models which utilize community-based sentencing and sanctions approach. This approach, according to Luong and Wormith (2011), involves making use of agencies and programs that avail community-based supervision, rehabilitation, and treatment of sentenced offenders. This approach of rehabilitating offenders has its base on the use of alternative sentences, diversionary options, and immediate sanctions instead of prisons and confinement.

Alternative sentencing has also proved to be an important alternative to incarceration as it diverts the law offenders from the costly incarceration program. Instead, it offers a second opportunity to the ones who have committed less serious crimes and the ones who do not pose a threat to themselves or the community. Other alternatives include the use of financial sanctions like forfeiture, fines, and restitution which can be applied in combination upon a single offender (Venderzyl, 2009).

According to Clear (2007), before embarking on a suitable alternative to incarceration, government agencies need to ask themselves the following questions: Does the alternative system contribute positively towards the reduction of the prison population? Does the alternative incarceration method enable the related offences of the criminal to be accomplished? Is the alternative cost-effective? Does the alternative method contribute to the reduction of crime rates in the society in the long run? Do the legal safeguards that have been installed protect the offender’s human rights? And lastly, does it help to reform the offender to become positive and beneficial to the society he/she is living in?


In conclusion, alternatives to incarceration are more beneficial in correcting and rehabilitating offenders, but they should not totally replace prisons. Effective management of alternatives to incarceration should ensure that they achieve the major goals of reducing congestion in prisons, rehabilitating prisoners, and taking care of the needs of the offenders.

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