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When it comes to youth crimes judges have a wide array of sentencing options. These provide alternatives to imprisonment and focus on rehabilitation. For adults, however, the same special considerations given to young offenders do not apply.

Currently, the sentencing options courts have for adult offenders are limited. In this article, Toronto criminal defence lawyers examine why alternatives to prison sentences are necessary.


Generally speaking in the Toronto area, a prison or penitentiary sentence is simply punishment. While sentencing is intended to be a highly individualized process where the offender’s personal circumstances are considered it often is only treated as a deterrent, not a genuine attempt at rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, when offenders are treated in such a manner it does little to curb behaviours and doesn’t serve to reduce crime. Alternatives to prison sentences provide an opportunity to provide rehabilitation while still holding offenders accountable.

Jail is a high-stress environment that isn’t the most conducive to prison rehabilitation programs. Sentencing options such as conditional sentences with restrictive conditions allow offenders to serve their jail sentences in the community. This permits them to continue working, making their mortgage payments and attend counsel. With access to the appropriate counselling programs and stability improves the chances of successful rehabilitate and reintegrate into their communities.

Restorative justice and community service provide the opportunity for offenders to accept responsibility and work towards their rehabilitation. These opportunities allow offenders not only begin working on their own rehabilitation, but give back to their communities, assist in rebuilding the victim’s confidence back in the justice system, and proves to judges that offenders are committed to addressing their personal circumstances.

Prison sentences have become an easy “one-size-fits-all” solution that unfortunately does not fit the rehabilitative needs of all people. Providing alternative sentencing options allows sentences to be crafted that are more applicable to the individual and their offence. More individualized sentencing yields better results and improves rehabilitation prospects.


The justice system is intended to hold offenders responsible, act as deterrence and assist in rehabilitation to reduce future re-offending. Unfortunately, jail does not reduce recidivism rates. In fact, prison sentences often lead to higher crime rates and increase societal risks.

Studies have presented evidence that shows prison sentences can have a criminogenic effect. Meaning rather than reducing rates of recidivism, prison may actually cause or increase the risk of criminal behaviour.

This is the result of a number of factors. For one, conditions inside the prison can be an aggravating factor. Prisoners may join gangs for protection, access to drugs, status or opportunity. The stressing factors inside of prison can also be psychologically harmful, making it difficult for ex-convicts to reintegrate into society.

The environment inside prison is not the only challenge with a jail sentence. Offenders facing lengthy custodial sentences risk future financial stability and could lose family connections. Offenders often lose their jobs and their criminal records make it increasingly difficult to find employment after their release. It becomes difficult to maintain their financial stability and often cannot keep up with their mortgage payments, child support or other financial obligations. It is not uncommon that offenders after being released from custody never manage to regain their previous levels of stability. This is considered a significant factor in their recidivism.


Imprisonment is the most expensive way for the government to deal with offenders. That makes prison not only a poor choice for offenders but for the average taxpayer as well. Correctional Service Canada estimates that the average cost of maintaining an offender in prison is $116,000 per year.

In contrast, maintaining an offender in the community averages about $31,000, less than a third of the cost. Add in the higher recidivism rate of prisoners and the cost difference is even greater.


Another reason to seek out alternatives to prison sentences is that our prisons lack the capacity to hold more people. Overcrowding in Ontario prisons is bad enough that some prisons have resorted to having prisoners sleep in shower cells. It is very common in remand facilities, such as the Toronto South Detention Centre, that accused persons sleep on the floor while they await their trials.

Overcrowded prisons see higher rates of violence and offer less opportunity for effective rehabilitation. While jails seek to hire more correctional officers to deal with overcrowding, not enough is being done to handle the issue itself. Using alternatives to prison is the most effective way to alleviate overcrowding.


Currently, there are alternatives to prison sentences available. These programs have proven success and could be pursued by courts more often for more effective, safer, and affordable corrections operation. Some alternatives include:

  • House Arrest
  • Fines & Probation
  • Restorative Justice
  • ATI Programs (USA)

House Arrest

House arrest is also known as home confinement or electronic home monitoring is a sentencing option available for Conditional Sentences. Offenders use a monitoring system, such as an ankle monitor that tracks their location. It confines them to their home with exceptions at certain times and locations for the purposes of employment or counselling. They also need to follow specific conditions, similar to probation and can be required to report to a probation officer on a daily basis.

Fines & Probation

For some offences fines are a good alternative. These are often less serious, non-violent, offences. In some cases, people will end up in jail due to an inability to pay the fine. One solution to this is to alter the fine payment to reflect both the seriousness of the crime and the offender’s income, rather than simply a flat rate.

Probation allows offenders access to monitoring by a probation officer and access to programs and counselling to assist with employment, mental health issues and addiction if required.

Restorative Justice

Restorative justice provides mediation between the offender and the victim and/or the community. It still holds the offender responsible but creates the opportunity to repair the damage of the offence and provide healing for the victim and offender alike. Restorative justice has the highest rate of victim satisfaction and lowers the risk of reoffending.

ATI Programs

In the USA there are a number of programs that fall under the ATI (Alternative to Incarceration) umbrella. Many of these focus on managing issues that may be manageable through therapy or support such as drug, alcohol, or mental illness programs. These create an opportunity to address the potential causes, helping to promote rehabilitation and reduce recidivism. As well, there include a number of services for specialized programs, community service, and pretrial services.


When facing charges for a criminal offence it’s important to hire a defence lawyer who cares about you and your rights. William Jaksa is a Toronto criminal defence lawyer who is familiar with the alternatives to prison sentences. He has helped a number of clients receive conditional sentences which allow for electronic home monitoring rather than imprisonment.

Contact William Jaksa today for a consultation.

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