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Taylor's sentence was a result of Congress enacting the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, which was created to combat the "war on drugs". It created mandatory minimum sentencing for various drug crimes regardless of the circumstances ( ??????). As a result, this law sentenced a non-violent offender to a lengthy prison sentence, which adds to the problem of prison overcrowding in the U.S. These are clear cases of punishment that does not fit the crime. Alternative sentencing is a solution to these types of sentencing disparities. Many states have enacted alternative sentencing laws to address the problem of prison overcrowding. Alternative sentencing punishes offenders, but does not involve incarceration. This type of punishment is intended for non-violent offenders and is designed to makeÂ punishments fit the crime (Browning).
There are two main categories of alternatives punishments; those without any type of supervision, which includes conditional discharge and fines. Conditional discharge is a sentence passed by a court which releases the offender without punishment provided that the offender doesn't commit another crime. Fines are the most common sentence of the court. Fines are fixed sums defined by statue for a particular offense and is governed by the nature of the crime, not by the offender's wealth or ability to pay. They generate revenue and serves as a means of reconciliation between offenders and victims (Smartt 203). The second alternative is a sentence which includes supervision. There are numerous non-custodial sentences that include supervision. These are mostly community based interventions such as probation, community service, home detention, electronic monitoring, and substance abuse programs. Probation is a sentencing procedure through which adults convicted of crimes are released by the court and stay out of prison, so long as they adhere to conditions set by the judge (Gertensfeld719). Community service is a sentence that requires an offender to do work that improves the community. Offenders who are sentenced to perform community service are typically required to do set amounts of unpaid labor for some project or operation that benefits the community in which they have been convicted. Community service offers many benefits. While still holding offenders accountable for their actions, the communities can receive tangible forms of compensation and is less expensive than incarceration, allowing the limited incarceration resources to be directed to offenders who pose greater risks to the community. Another benefit is the offering of positive, structured activities for the offender's free time. However, although offenders themselves may benefit from performing their service, being forced to give up leisure time or opportunities to earn money clearly has a punitive aspect (Gertensfeld 134). Home detention , also known as house arrest and electronic monitoring are sentences that confine an offender to their home and is used to alleviate institutional crowding Electronic monitoring is used monitor the offender. It is a transmitter attached to the offender's body (usually in the form of an ankle bracelet) that sends a signal relayed by a home telephone to the supervising agent during the hours the offender is restricted to the residence. For many offenders, this punishment is the last chance to avoid incarceration in jail or prison (Gertensfeld 717).
Supporters of alternative sentences agree that U.S. prisons and jails are overcrowded and that too much money is being spent to house this country's constantly growing prison population.
According to Markel, for the last fifteen years, proposals advocating the use of alternative sanctions have attracted great attention in part because there are currently over 2.1 million people in state and federal prisons and jails. Frustrated by the apparent inability of the criminal justice system to reduce criminal populations at a reasonable cost, various scholars with different political agendas have pursued cheaper and more effective methods to reduce prison populations" and recidivism (repeat offenders).' Some of these alternatives are stigmatic in nature and do not involve incarceration, such as criminal fines, demeaning community service, and most controversially, shaming punishments (1388). Few, if any western nations rely on prisons for their punishment as much as does the United States. European nations, for example, rely much more on fines than we do, which supplement tax payments, instead of incarceration, which depletes tax revenues. We must find constructive punishment alternatives to prison. Judges have generally believed they had only two real choices available for non-violent offenders, either imprisonment, which may degrade and even destroy the individual or probation which may involve virtually no punishment. Yet probation is increasingly used because of prison overcrowding. However, offenders should be held responsible for violations of the law. Implementation of alternative sentencing would allow both constructive punishment for offenders and restitution for victims(Cannon 758-759).
Risk is a major factor in opposition to alternative sentencing. Given an alternative sentence, the offender is on the street and has the ability to reoffend. A non-violent offender, who is not incarcerated, has the opportunity to commit a more severe crime, which could have been avoided if he or she was not sentenced alternatively. Prison is seen as a harsh and shameful punishment. Victims want to see that their offender is punished. Punishing an offender alternatively may seem unfair to the victim leaving them feeling that justice has not been served. As for community service and fines, without careful administration, many offenders will violate work and restitution orders. Strict monitoring of offenders and speedy court action in cases of non-compliance with sentences will be necessary to ensure the success of these programs (Cannon 760). Judges and their staff, who already have large caseloads, have the extra duty of monitoring restitution and community service orders. Probation officers monitor many offenders and they can be overburdened with cases and sentences may not be carried out as intended.
I am in agreement with Cannon, who says, "Instead of making a criminal offender pay for damages suffered by victims, we tax the victim and other law-abiding citizens to raise money to keep the offender in costly quarters (para 2). Meaning that citizens are paying the price for offenders committing crimes by paying taxes to build and maintain prisons. Because of prison overcrowding, housing prisoners is costing taxpayers more and more each year. If sentencing laws were re-evaluated so that all first time non-violent offenders were given alternative sentences, it would take much needed strain off the prison system and its costs. Prisons should house unremorseful, violent offenders as well as repeat offenders. Non-violent offenders can be turned into more serious criminals as a result of being housed with dangerous career criminals. Drug abuse has been known to lead to criminal acts. Rather than a lengthy prison sentence, a substance abuse program should be the mandatory sentence. Sending a person convicted of possession of a small amount of drugs, not intended for sale to prison only worsens the overcrowding problem. A drug treatment program is a better alternative as it gives the offender a chance at rehabilitation and less chance of re-offending. Due to the complexity of this issue, this discussion is limited to sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum sentencing, alternative sentencing, and prison overcrowding. Juvenile offenders, halfway house, and drug courts are valid alternatives, but were omitted to maintain the required length of this research paper.
Non-violent offenders must be punished, but a prison term is not always necessary.