Can Alternative Sentencing Be an Option for Young and First Time Criminal Offenders?

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As a criminal defense and DUI Lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, I encourage judges and prosecutors everywhere to embrace alternative sentencing. Sending convicted offenders to jail or prison can often do more harm than good for individuals and the community. Especially when criminal charges involve first-time offenses, juvenile defendants, and nonviolent actions, alternatives to incarceration should be the first, and perhaps only, penalties considered.

Community Control and Community Service Allow Offenders to Remain Productive Members of Society

Locking a person up for even a few days very often sets off a chain reaction of adverse consequences that can mount one upon the other for years or even a lifetime. Spending time behind bars makes it difficult to keep a job, remain in school, and/or keep up with financial obligations. Finding employment or reenrolling after release can prove so challenging that people simply give up. 

Denied income and opportunities, a formerly incarcerated individual can become extremely depressed, hopeless, and even homeless.  They may conclude that they have no other choice than to resume the activities that landed them in jail in the first place.

The emotional and mental strains from all this can also lead to drug and alcohol abuse, which themselves can bring people into contact with police and the risk for reincarceration. 

Sentencing a person to monitored release allows them to continue working, remain in school, and provide for their family.  Wearing an ankle bracelet and reporting to a parole officer are not convenient, but they are manageable for most people.

Beyond close supervision, requiring community service lets a person develop skills and make community contacts that can benefit them as they try to find better jobs or attain higher education. All of these befits are available to juvenile and adult offenders.

Education and Behavioral Interventions Prevent Further Legal Issues

My home state of Ohio has long recognized that a first-time conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs rarely merits a jail sentence. Judges typically sentence defendants in cases involving what state statutes call operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVI) to complete a driver intervention program. The person who has been sentenced must pay for the course and set aside three days (usually over a weekend) to fulfill the sentence, but doing so keeps them out of jail.

Ohio also recently implemented a system for steering low-level drug offenders to counseling instead of incarceration. This acknowledges that addiction is a health problem much more than a personal failing and the solution is treatment rather than punishment.

Much of my criminal defense lawyer practice in and around Columbus, Ohio, is devoted to advising and representing people accused of DUI/OVI, dug possession, and drug trafficking in small amounts. I cannot always convince judges and prosecutors to dismiss orsignificantly reduce charges. In those situations, I advocate strongly for alternative sentences that help my clients overcome their substance abuse challenges and avoid further run-ins with the law.

Restorative Justice Heals the Community

Columbus has joined many large cities across the United States in diverting most criminal defendants younger than 18 out of the criminal court system altogether. A restorative justice program is the newest innovation in dealing with juvenile offenders. Let’s look at the access you and your Columbus criminal defense and traffic attorney will have to the evidence at each step of the process.

As explained on this website, a restorative justice program brings accused juvenile offenders, counselors, parents or guardians, and victims together to “discuss the offense, ask questions, and make decisions as to how the offender should take responsibility for his or her actions.” After accepting responsibility, a teenager can work to restore their community and their standing in it by doing things like volunteering, repairing property damage, making financial restitution, and returning to school to earn a diploma or degree.

An overwhelming body of research shows that sending a teen to juvenile detention makes it more likely that the young offender will drop out of school, be incarcerated as an adult, suffer and inflict violence in many forms, find it difficult to remain employed, struggle with substance abuse, and eventually become homeless. Every alternative to keeping young people out of the jail system is worth pursuing.