Alternatives to Incarceration

Alternatives to Incarceration


The US juvenile justice system main purpose is to rehabilitate youth offenders based on their individual needs and to protect them from the destructive sentences of the criminal courts. The juvenile system focuses on the youth as a person who needs rehabilitation than the act that such a person committed (Brian, 2013). An increasing body of research shows that incarceration of juvenile delinquents in secure corrections has over the years failed to produce better results than the alternative sanctions. The research paper focuses on the reasons for alternative sanctions, the types of alternative sanctions applied and their significant benefits to individuals and society.

Historical and economic reasons for alternative sanctions

Extensive research conducted on juvenile incarcerations has found that detention has failed to reduce recidivism and has negative impacts on juveniles. Meta-analyses studies suggest that juvenile incarceration does not reduce the likelihood of the delinquent re-offending and in some instances it may have increased it (Annie, 2011). A longitudinal study focusing on the serious offenders was conducted in Philadelphia, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Maricopa County where juveniles were matched against 66 factors including their criminal history and demographics, those incarcerated show no better outcomes in reduction of recidivism than delinquents on probation (Brian, 2013). Another reason is overcrowding of detention centers, which have inhibited their ability to provide better services. Additionally, overcrowding has been associated with increased cases of altercations between the delinquents and the staff leading to increment in injuries to the juveniles. Incarceration also affects the youth’s education and makes reentry after release difficult because they had been detached from the curriculum system (Annie, 2011).

Economic reasons relates to the cost of rehabilitating juveniles in the detention centers. Incarceration is the most expensive way of rehabilitating juveniles. Additionally, there has been an increased rate of recidivism by juveniles whore are released after incarceration in detention centers (Brian, 2013). As such, policy makers have questioned whether the cost is justified considering the poor outcomes. Although the annual expenditure on a single juvenile varies between states, the spending ranges from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in all states. A study on the expenditures on housing a single juvenile in four states, Georgia, Hawaii, California and Virginia and the outcomes showed poor return on investment since most of the juveniles were incarcerated again within a period of three years after they were released (Brian, 2013).

Alternative Sanctions

Home detention or house arrest

Youth offenders are released to this community based- program where their activities are restricted. The offenders are closely monitored while at home, school or at their place of work. They are closely monitored by case workers who regularly interacts with them through frequent phone calls, house visits or electronic monitoring (Lipsey et al., 2010).  The youth offenders must adhere to the conditions set by the court. The state of Florida uses an electronic monitoring program.

Reporting centers

This program is non-residential and is highly structured. The programs provide day and evening treatments where youth offenders are provided structured activities while under supervision. The offenders report about their daily activities to the case managers at the report centers. They must report at specific time and certain days in a week. An example is AMIkids community based treatment service that offer experiential intervention treatments (Lipsey et al., 2010).

Intensive Supervision Programs (ISP)

A non-residential community programme allows caseworkers to have more control over the juveniles to safeguard public safety. Offenders are provided with case plans that have strict conditions to follow and the expected outcomes they are expected to work towards achieving those outcomes (Lipsey et al., 2010). There is high levels of interaction with caseworkers. An example, Baltimore has implemented Youth Advocate Program and Functional Family Therapy.

Significant Societal and individual benefits of imposing sanctions

A significant advantage to the society is that juveniles are less likely to re-offend which improves the safety of the public. A study by Lipsey et al. (2010) found out that, the likelihood of youth offenders who underwent the AMIkids day care treatment to be convicted, re-arrested, or adjudicated was significantly less compared to incarcerated juveniles. Additionally, alternative sanctions are less expensive and there is good return on investments. Since the youth offenders are not held in detention centers the supply of labor force is not affected hence the community continues to grow.

Youth offenders benefit a lot from alternative sanctions. First, they get an opportunity to continue with their education hence their peers or age mates do not leave them behind. Secondly, they are protected from psychological trauma suffered from being incarcerated (Lipsey et al., 2010). Thirdly, they are able to spend time with their families, relatives and friends, which is a privilege that lacks when incarcerated. Finally, they get the best treatment and the chances of being arrested again due to repeat offence are minimal.


The evidence-based research has proven that incarceration of youth offenders does not provide the expected outcomes and in some cases it increases the likelihood of recidivism. Other negative impacts of incarceration include mental health problem, disruption of education and high costs of operations. However, policy makers decided to formulate laws that opted for other alternative sanctions, which have proven so far to be successful. Youth offenders have a better chance of receiving the best rehabilitation and the society gets a better return on investment. Alternative sanctions are less expensive and sufficiently meet the main goal of the Juvenile Justice Systems.


Annie E. Case Foundation. (2011). “No place for Kids: The case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration” Baltimore, Md.

Brian K. Lovins (2013) “Putting Wayward Kids Behind Bars: The Impact of Length of Stay in a Custodial Setting on Recidivism” University of Cincinnati lovinsb.pdf.

Lipsey, Mark W., James C. Howell, Marion R. Chapman G. & Carver D. (2010). Improving the effectiveness of Juvenile Justice System: A new Perspective on Evidence-Based Practice. Washington D.C.: Center for Juvenile Justice Reform

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