When someone in Missouri is convicted of a crime, they might face imprisonment or steep fines depending on the offense. But judges have alternatives to sending someone to jail. And this year marks the 35th anniversary of one state program that focuses on rehabilitation over incarceration.

Court dockets in Springfield were overflowing with traffic, misdemeanor and non-violent crimes in 1985. Civic leaders designed a plan to divert certain offenders to area non-profit organizations where they could work off their sentence instead of going to jail. The results have been positive for the government and the people it is trying to rehabilitate.

A more hopeful alternative

The Community Alternative Service Program (CASP) has provided more than 146,000 labor hours to 700 nonprofit and government organizations over the last three decades. Clients paint, landscape, clear brush and do carpentry and janitorial work to serve the community instead of serving time. The program typically costs offenders $120 in fees and is self-sufficient without spending tax dollars.

Probation offers another way for someone charged with a crime to start over. After a conviction or plea agreement, the trial judge has the sole discretion to sentence probation for some time instead of incarceration. The judge might consider several factors and options when issuing probation:

  • Confinement is unnecessary to protect the public
  • No prior criminal history
  • Help necessary to overcome a drug or alcohol addiction
  • Installing an ignition interlock device can prevent further drunk driving
  • A theft-prevention program can better teach criminal responsibility

The state Department of Corrections supervises conditions such as paying restitution to the victim, refraining from leaving Missouri, obeying curfew or abstaining from alcohol or drugs. Violations can result in jail or prison time.

Review your options

At their core, community service and probation are lifelines to avoid jail and stigma. Everyone deserves justice. If you or a loved one are ever charged with a criminal offense, you want to know all the available options, which might include an alternative sentence.