Rehabilitation and alternatives to incarceration

Train tracks with no trespassing sign

Students engaged in a criminal justice degree program may come across the issues involved with choosing different methods of punishment that do not involve traditional imprisonment. There are a number of reasons why different types of punishment may be chosen over incarceration, and those who have received their bachelor’s in criminal justice may see many of these procedures put to use during a law enforcement career.

Alternatives to incarceration: Prisons around the world are growing in population, which may place enormous financial burdens on taxpayers and governments who must pay to keep criminals incarcerated. Alternatives may provide solutions to putting prisoners in full-time lock up and also free the U.S. from a large financial responsibility.

The state of U.S. incarceration: The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ report on the U.S. prison population shows that 2.7 percent of U.S. residents in 2001 had been in a state or federal prison at some point in their lives. This statistic was an abrupt change from 1.3 percent in 1973.

Prevention of recidivism: Recidivism is when a criminal is incarcerated within three years of being released. This is a large issue in criminology and law enforcement because a high rate of those who commit crimes are subject to recidivism.

Options in punishment: Some evidence may suggest that full incarceration does not help those who have committed certain non-violent or non-serious crimes. With more options available, courts can help save taxpayers’ money and still reduce crime in certain circumstances.

Alternatives to incarceration

A number of alternatives exist as substitutes for imprisonment. Some of these solutions are relatively new, while others have been utilized in the past.

Specialized programs: Specialized programs, such as projects that are developed within certain communities or by courts, can have an impact on the criminal justice system. Some of the more experimental aspects of these arrangements may be studied in a criminal justice degree program.

Pretrial services: A pretrial service occurs before the criminal case is processed and may limit the amount of time an inmate stays in jail in order to cut costs. In order for a pretrial program to take place, information must first be gathered by certain judicial officers who will determine whether or not the inmate qualifies for this type of procedure.

Juvenile offenders: It may be difficult to recommend sentencing for a minor who has committed a first-time offense. Some institutions, aside from juvenile facilites, have been developed which can help minors.

Boot camp programs: Boot camps offer programs that help instill a sense of discipline in younger offenders in order to “shock” them away from further criminal activities. These type of rehabilitation facilities may be harsher than prison, and feature more cost-effective institutions than regular prisons.


Counseling: Psychological counseling may be an option instead of incarceration. Those who are subjected to this treatment option may have to visit an expert for a designated amount of time.

Drug and alcohol programs: Individuals, such as drivers who are caught drunk driving, sometimes have to go into a help center in order to have their license reinstated. Drug and alcohol addictions are complicated and some of these individuals may need help, not imprisonment.

Group therapy: Group therapy is utilized in prisons but may also be put to work outside of these facilities. This type of rehabilitation puts offenders that may have committed the same type of crime together to talk and share the reasoning behind why they committed these acts and how they can avoid doing so in the future.

Halfway houses: These institutions work by housing criminals in a facility with a curfew but still allowing them some freedom, like working a job. Halfway houses often double as a rehabilitation center of some sort for those who have issues with drugs and alcohol.