For people convicted of non-violent crimes in Maryland it often makes more sense to provide an alternative to prison. Luckily, alternative sentencing strategies are gaining widespread support throughout the nation, resulting in the first drop in the American prison population since the early 1970s. These programs can benefit those accused of relatively minor crimes, such as shoplifting or drug use.
Professionals in the criminal justice system say that intensive one- to two-year programs that provide considerable structure have shown marked success in turning around the lives of participants. Those people ordered to an alternative sentencing program have also admitted to seeing personal strides, as well. A 37-year-old woman credits an alternative program with her total life change. In just three short years, the woman went from stealing large amounts of commercial goods to almost finishing a degree at a local community college. She is also working and has gotten married since finishing the alternative sentencing program.
Legislators say that more officials in the criminal justice system are beginning to understand the value of these programs when compared to prison time for minor offenses. Alternative programs are less expensive to operate, and they show lower rates of recidivism when compared to traditional prison sentences. Officials argue that traditional approaches do little to curb the root causes of criminal behavior; instead, they only serve to remove people from the general population without attempting to rehabilitate them.
Another popular form of alternative sentencing is drug courts. These programs generally allow people to live at home while undergoing counseling and frequent drug testing. Advocates argue that keeping people out of prison allows them to receive important vocational training that makes them more valuable to society as a whole. Participants are closely tracked throughout their time in these structured programs, which use novel approaches to rehabilitate their clients. Although the true value of these programs has not been realized on a nationwide scale, officials speculate that state and federal governments could save millions.
Source: Daily Press, "Alternative sentencing programs help put nonviolent offenders on right track," Joe Lawlor, Feb. 25, 2012