Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Alternatives to Jail

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Alternatives to Jail

Article excerpt

The application of non-custodial sentences should be encouraged wherever possible

Despite efforts to improve the quality of inmates' lives, in most countries prison is still by and large a place of exclusion and segregation, synonymous with injustice and pointless suffering. The steadily rising prison population is straining the system's capacity to breaking point and hindering the application of more ambitious penal policies that look further than the immediate problems of imprisonment and overcrowding. Security requirements are so pressing in overcrowded prisons that the authorities do little to create effective rehabilitation and social reintegration programmes (although such programmes do exist). Add drug abuse in prison and its associated problems - Aids being the most serious - and the control of prison gangs over inmates, and the picture looks grim indeed.

The prison system's difficulties in achieving objectives such as rehabilitation and social reintegration are not exactly new. Deprivation of freedom, which was institutionalized in the European judicial system during the late eighteenth century, was intended as a more rational and humane response to criminal acts than the punishments that had previously been meted out. But its framework of application - prison - soon proved incapable of solving the individual and social conflicts that crime brings about or reveals. Since then, prison as an institution has always been in crisis. Its legitimacy has been called into question, and penologists have sought new ways of improving the situation and, at the same time, looked for alternative solutions. This trend has been gathering momentum since the second half of the nineteenth century.

A wide variety of alternatives to custodial sentences are currently in use in many penal systems. The most noteworthy include:

Attenuated execution of sentences, including detention at home, semi-liberty, freedom on licence, and various forms of discontinuous detention (e.g. during leisure time and/or at weekends);

Probation, which ranges from a suspended sentence to conditional remission of a sentence and a broad gamut of probationary and conditional release measures;

Alternatives to custodial sentences that benefit the offender as much as society. In addition to fining, as traditionally used in penal codes, many other alternatives now exist, including accessory penalties or penalties that restrict freedom or impose a ban on professional activities, the deprivation or suspension of certain rights and payment of damages to the victim by the offender. …

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