According to prison critics and others, prisons are schools of crime. This viewpoint holds that when someone gets a prison sentence for a small crime, they will meet bigger criminals and build a social network among criminals. Secondly, the viewpoint asserts that when released from prison, regular elements of society do not wish to receive the person, whereas criminal networks do. These factors may then lead to recidivism.

Now of course there are other points of view, but my question is: what alternative systems to prison sentences have been proposed? For small and juvenile crimes, one alternative that has been proposed is forced labour (cleaning parks, etc.), but have any alternatives been proposed for serious, violent crimes, such as rape, armed robbery, and murder?

  • 3
    Widespread use of the death penalty greatly predated widespread imprisonment, but I'm not sure that is what you are looking for. Widespread exile to places like Australia was also a thing for a while.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 23:31

2 Answers 2


It depends on what you want to achieve - there are differing schools on why punishments would work, and it affects the means on how you achieve those goals.

Preventing repeat crimes - protecting society from the violent criminal: aside from incarceration it can be achieved by death sentence or exile - e.g. "transportation" in the old British Empire, or the Russian Siberia starting from Tsarist times.

Vengeance and deterrance - there are many historical examples and a few current countries where harsh corporal punishments are practiced. Things like amputation of limbs or castration certainly have some efficiency for those two goals.

Rehabilitation - for some types of crimes/criminals, forced psychiatric treatment has been used. Also, there are 'alternative prisons' that claim to achieve better rehabilitation than the USA-style prisons - such as http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/feb/25/norwegian-prison-inmates-treated-like-people description.


The German criminal code knows some alternatives to prison sentences which can be used as punishments for less serious crimes:

  1. "Sozialstunden": Serving a number of hours of community service. This punishment is used on juvenile offenders only.
  2. "Tagessätze": Monetary fines. The extend of the fine is defined in daily incomes of the offender. The offender can choose to convert each "Tagessatz" into a day in prison if they don't want to pay.
  3. "Bewährungsstrafe": Shorter prison sentences for first-time offenders can be punished by suspended sentences. The offender gets nominally convicted for x months in prison (which means that they now have the status of a convicted felon), but they go free for now. Should they commit a felony again in the future, then they must serve that suspended sentence in addition to the sentence for their second felony.
  4. "Verwarnung mit Strafvorbehalt": A formal warning with a suspended fine. Basically the same as a "Bewährungstrafe", but for fines instead of prison sentences.

There are also several countries which still apply corporal punishment. Most of those are Muslim majority countries which follow Sharia law. The Sharia mandates flogging or mutilation for certain crimes, which some countries still practice.


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