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Community sentence

Community sentence or alternative sentencing or non-custodial sentence is a collective name in criminal justice for all the different ways, in which courts can punish someone, convicted of committing an offence, other than the custodial sentence (serving a prison term) or capital punishment (death).

Traditionally, the theory of retributive justice is based on the ideas of retaliation (punishment), which is valuable in itself, and also provides deterrent. Before the police, sentences of execution or imprisonment were thought pretty efficient at this, while at the same time removing the threat criminals pose to the public (protection). Alternative sentences add to these goals, trying to reform the offender (rehabilitation), and put right what he did (reparation).

Traditionally, victims of a crime only played a small part in the criminal justice process, as this breaching the rules of the society. The restorative approach to justice approach often makes it a part of a sentence for the offender to apologize, compensate the damage they have caused or repair it with their own labour.

The shift towards alternative sentencing means that some offenders avoid imprisonment with its many unwanted consequences. This is beneficial for the society, as it may prevent them from getting into the so-called the revolving door syndrome, the inability of a person to go back to normal life after leaving a prison, becoming a career criminal. Furthermore, there are hopes that this could alleviate prison overcrowding and reduce the cost of punishment.

Instead of depriving those who commit less dangerous offences (such as summary offences) of their freedom, the courts put some limitations on them and give them some duties. The list of components that make up a community sentence is of course different in individual countries, and will be combined individually by the court. Non-custodial sentences can include:

  • unpaid work (this can be called community payback or community service)
  • house arrest
  • curfew
  • suspended sentence (that means that breaking the law during a sentence may lead to imprisonment)
  • wearing an electronic tag
  • mandatory treatments and programmes (drug or alcohol treatment, psychological help, back to work programmes,)
  • fine
  • apology to the victim
  • specific court orders and injunctions (not to drink alcohol, not to go to certain pubs, meet certain people)
  • regular reporting to someone (offender manager, probation)
  • judicial corporal punishment


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