Under certain circumstances, judges may have the flexibility to prescribe sentences other than imprisonment for criminal conviction. These alternative sentences may include probation, monetary fines, community service, drug and alcohol training, or any combination thereof.
Alternative sentences are typically reserved only for first-time offenders who have committed less-serious, non-violent crimes.
One of the most frequently-prescribed alternative sentences is probation. Probation essentially allows an individual to avoid incarceration as long as he or she adheres to certain rules and conditions set forth by the judge. Probation is usually prescribed in conjunction with a suspended jail sentence; if the terms of probation are violated, then the individual may have to serve the jail sentence.
Conditions of probation typically include regular meetings with a probation officer, submitting to drug and alcohol screenings, paying monetary fines, and performing community service.
In some cases, a judge may order a suspended sentence. A suspended sentence usually involves one of two things: either the judge refrains from issuing a sentence at all, or the judge issues a sentence but refrains from executing it. Suspended sentences are typically conditional, meaning that the offender must adhere to certain rules and conditions in order to avoid serving the full sentence. In rare instances, a suspended sentence may be unconditional.