Understanding Alternatives to Jail Time

Most people assume that after someone is convicted of a crime or misdemeanor, he or she is sentenced to jail. While crimes such as murder, rape, and assault usually result in time in prison, judges and juries can set other sentences. The following penalties are common alternatives or additions to serving time in jail.

Classes Related to the Offense

To ensure that people do not commit the same crimes, judges often require them to take classes related to their charges. For example, someone who is convicted of abusing his or her spouse usually has to take court approved domestic violence classes online. Similarly, people who are found guilty of driving while intoxicated or endangering people’s lives through reckless speeding usually have to go to driver improvement school. 

Community Service

In cases where the offenses are not too severe, judges frequently require people to perform community service, particularly if they are young. Community service refers to work that people do for their communities without payment. Usually, this work corresponds to the person’s crime. For instance, when someone is found guilty of destroying government property, he or she has to help repair the damage. This also involves educating other people about the consequences of breaking the law.


Another common penalty for minor misdemeanors is a fine. The defendant must pay either the government or the victim an amount proportional to the crime. Although totals vary widely, the Constitution prevents courts from imposing excessive fines on criminals. Almost everyone is familiar with this kind of punishment, which frequently takes the form of speeding tickets. 

After watching too many courtroom TV shows, most people think that everyone who faces a trial goes to jail. In reality, judges can impose many different penalties, most of which help to fix the problems caused by the defendant’s crime.

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