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Alternatives to jail or prison time

Sentences for a crime do not always include jail or prison time. Alternative sentences are designed to punish or deter further crime without making the defendant serve time. Examples of alternative sentences in New Jersey and across the United States include probation, suspended sentences, fines, restitution and adjudication diversion programs.

Probation and suspended sentences are usually offered for low-level criminal charges and first-time offenders. When a judge issues a suspended sentence, he or she determines a sentence but decides not to carry it out. The sentence will not be imposed unless the defendant commits another crime or violates the conditions set by the court. Probation is similar, but a person on probation may have less freedoms during the term and be required to report to a probation officer.

Fines and restitution both require a defendant to make a payment. While fines are paid to the state, restitution is distributed to victims. A defendant who is able to pay restitution prior to sentencing may have a better chance of asking for this type of punishment in lieu of jail or prison time compared to a defendant who does nothing prior to sentencing.

Some sentences are conditioned upon completion of a program like drug court. This is becoming a popular alternative sentence for drug offenses when it is clear the defendant needs treatment instead of prison. After completion of the program, the charges can be dismissed.

A person who is interested in alternative sentencing may wish to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. Statutory guidelines may require jail or prison time for some crimes or repeat offenders. In some cases, a defense attorney might be able to help clients strike a plea bargain that allows them to accept a lesser charge in exchange for completing an alternative sentence.

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