California Alternatives to Prison Sentencing-Categories

If you are facing criminal charges, you will be glad to know that the California criminal justice system has many alternatives to prison sentencing and punishment that may allow you to complete your sentence in the community rather than in custody.

Alternatives to prison sentences available in California
There are many alternatives to prison sentencing available in California.

In some drug possession and use cases, California law requires that you be diverted away from being incarcerated in order to be given the opportunity to seek and complete treatment, counseling or other types of community-based rehabilitation.

Upon successful completion of the terms and conditions of an alternative or probationary sentence, the law provides a remedy for you to have your criminal conviction dismissed for an eligible misdemeanor or felony charge.

In this section, the attorneys at Wallin & Klarich will identify and explain some of the various alternatives to prison sentencing that are available in California. The option that may be available to you will depend on your current case and criminal history.

Pay to Stay Jail

In some communities, you may be able to select a city jail where you serve your sentence, rather than be sent to a county facility. Often, city jails are cleaner and permit you more flexibility in how you serve your sentence. Work release may be available, allowing you to serve your time overnight while you go to work during the day.

You must pay for the privilege of serving your sentence in a pay to stay jail, which may include a health inspection fee, a $100 to $120-a-day custody fee, and a fee to supervise you with a GPS monitoring device if you are permitted to be released during the day.

Voluntary House Arrest

You may be able to request being sentenced to serve a period of custody confined in your residence. This type of an alternative sentence is commonly known as “house arrest.” House arrest, home confinement and electronic home detention are all synonymous terms for this type of alternative sentencing.

house arrest GPS
If you are on house arrest, you may be forced to wear a GPS ankle bracelet.

When you are placed on home confinement or detention, the judge orders you to abide by specific terms and conditions that restrict your freedom and mobility. You may be electronically monitored by a device placed on your ankle and/or by equipment you must install in your home, all at your own expense. However, you cannot be excluded from home detention on the basis of being unable to afford the costs associated with your confinement.

During your house arrest, terms and conditions you must abide by may include:

  • Curfew restrictions;
  • Random drug testing, and/or
  • In-person office meetings or home visits with your probation officer or court-approved counselor.

Depending on the severity of your criminal offense, the judge may permit you to travel during your home confinement sentence for the following purposes:

  • Employment and school;
  • Travel to medical appointments;
  • Attend court-ordered activities and counseling;
  • Attend and participate in AA, NA, and alcohol/drug education classes;
  • Perform community service;
  • Tend to family obligations, and
  • Limited personal errands, such as grocery shopping.

You are permitted to go only to previously-approved places, such as work or school and other approved appointments. If you are caught outside of an approved-travel appointment or if you try to tamper with or remove your electronic monitoring equipment, you may be arrested, have your privilege of house arrest revoked and returned to custody.

Additionally, it is important that you understand that if you agree to house arrest, you must serve every day of your sentence. There is no time off for good behavior. Whereas, a jail sentence is typically reduced by half provided that you earn good conduct credit by demonstrating cooperative behavior while in custody.

For example, if you are sentenced to 180 days in jail, you will usually receive credit for two days for every one day you serve without any disciplinary action (in jail, this is known as a “write-up”), for a total of 90 actual days in custody. When you are approved for house arrest, you must serve the entire 180-day sentence.

Involuntary Home Detention

Under California Penal Code Section 1203.017, when a county jail facility becomes too overcrowded, misdemeanor level inmates can be required to serve out the remainder of their sentence confined to their homes. They receive the same amount of jail credit as they would receive had they served their sentence in jail. The defendant will often be monitored by an electronic monitoring device and must allow any peace officer to inspect his or her home for verification of compliance at any time.

The law also states that if there is reasonable cause to believe that a person is failing to comply with the rules or conditions of involuntary home detention, or that electronic monitoring devices are not functioning properly, the individual may be taken into custody for the remainder of their original sentence.

Electronic Monitoring

Electric monitoring is one of the alternatives to prison sentencing
If you have been convicted of an alcohol-related crime, you may be forced to wear a SCRAM bracelet.

Electronic monitoring is a catch-all phrase to describe various ways of ensuring your compliance while under a form of alternative sentencing. Electronic monitoring is compulsory for voluntary and involuntary home detention. Additionally, electronic monitoring generally includes Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) tracking, which is not in itself a form of alternative sentencing, but rather a tool used by law enforcement to track the movements of probationers, parolees and other inmates already subject to conditional release into the community.

Electronic monitoring also refers to technology known as SCRAM, which stands for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor (SCRAM) and is one of the alternatives to prison sentencing. A judge may require this device for an offender who has been convicted of alcohol-related offenses or who has a history of alcohol dependency. A SCRAM is an alcohol-detection bracelet which continuously monitors alcohol concentration. It is not used to control your movement.


Being fined is always an option upon a criminal conviction. A fine can be ordered in addition to or instead of a jail or prison sentence.

If you are ordered to pay a fine for a misdemeanor or felony conviction rather than sentenced to jail or prison, you will also likely be placed on a period of probation, either unsupervised or supervised.

Community Service

Community service is an option available to the judge in lieu of ordering you to pay a fine or sending you to jail or prison. If you are granted community service, the judge will assign you a certain number of service hours to complete within a specific time period, usually 90-days to six months.

You must report to a county-approved community volunteer service program (location information is usually provided by the court), pay a fee to participate in the program, and show up on time to perform your service at your assigned location as scheduled. If you do not show up, you do not receive any credit towards completing your hours.

If you cannot complete you community service prior to your court-ordered due date, you may request an extension from the judge. An extension may be granted, provided that you are demonstrating an effort to fulfill your community service obligations.

If you do not show proof of completion of your court-ordered community service hours when they are due, the judge may order you to serve the balance of your community service hours in jail.

Community Work Program (CWP)

A Community Work Program (CWP) is an alternative sentence designed to relieve jail overcrowding and provide maintenance services to county recreational facilities. Under California Penal Code section 4024.2, a County Sheriff is permitted to release certain low-risk inmates to perform work for the county in-lieu of serving their sentence in jail.

Do you qualify for any alternatives to prison sentencing?

CWP is a privilege, which benefits you by allowing you to go home at night and be with your family and friends. The county benefits as well from your help to keep county parks, beaches and other areas clean. Tax-payers enjoy the significant cost savings of not paying for your incarceration.

The County Sheriff sets eligibility criteria, which generally includes inmates:

  • Sentenced to 180 days or less for a misdemeanor offense;
  • With no active warrants or holds;
  • Physically fit to perform manual labor;
  • Who reside in the county;
  • Able to pay any required fees; and
  • Not serving a violent or sex-related offense.

Generally, every 10-hour day you work on a county maintenance detail is credited as a full 24-hours towards the completion of your jail sentence.

12-step Programs

If you have been convicted of alcohol and/or drug-related charges, or if the judge feels you have a problem with chemical dependency, you may be required to show proof of attendance at a self-help meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). AA or NA attendance may be court-ordered on their own, included in your terms and conditions of probation, or required as part of completion of alcohol and/or drug counseling, education, and/or rehabilitation programs.

You pick the meeting you want to go to and have the meeting secretary or your “sponsor” sign a court card to verify your attendance. 12-step meetings are held many times a day in virtually every community and they are free to attend.

Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Programs

Sometimes, addressing an alcohol or drug problem requires more than your voluntary attendance at self-help/12-step meetings. Courts recognize the significant benefit that these types of community-based rehabilitative services provide, both to public safety and to your personal recovery, as well as the relief they bring to overcrowded California county jails and state prisons. A judge may permit you to serve a term in custody in an alcohol or drug rehabilitation program in lieu of jail or prison.

Alcohol/drug rehabilitation treatment may be either:

  • Inpatient ( or “residential”); or
  • Outpatient.

Inpatient or residential treatment means you live at a structured group home or private facility on the condition that you remain sober, attend 12-step meetings and actively participate in a program of recovery. You will be expected to follow strict rules, comply with any curfew imposed and chores assigned and meet regularly with a counselor or “sponsor.”

Outpatient means you may live in your own home and go to a treatment facility on a regular basis. You must attend all required counseling and treatment sessions and actively participate in a program of recovery. Like residential programs, outpatient services typically are patterned on a 12-step process.

You should expect frequent and random alcohol/drug testing in order to monitor your sobriety and you may be required to pay any costs or fees associated with treatment.

Alcohol/drug rehabilitation programs vary in length and normally must be approved, either by the court, the county probation department or the agency which supervises you. The judge is permitted to use his or her discretion in setting the term of your rehabilitation (90-days to a year is not uncommon), unless otherwise statutorily prescribed by law.

California Probation

If you are eligible, probation is a type of community sentence imposed by the judge that allows for your conditional release into the community upon your conviction.

California probation
You may have to report to your probation officer on a weekly basis.

Probation may be either informal (often referred to as “summary probation”), which means unsupervised, or formal (or “felony probation”), which means you must report to and comply with the instructions of an assigned County Probation officer who will supervise you.

Probation comes with terms and conditions that you must strictly follow in order to remain in the community. If you willfully fail to comply with any of the terms and conditions of your probation, or refuse to follow the instructions of your probation officer, you violate your probation and may be subject to arrest pending a probation revocation hearing.

Probation conditions are set by the court. If you are placed on formal probation, the probation officer’s report and recommendations are often followed by the court in setting your conditions.

Probation conditions must be reasonably related to the crime for which you are convicted or related to the prevention of future criminality. Common conditions of probation include:

  • Do not violate any laws;
  • Pay all court-ordered fines and any required program fees;
  • Make restitution to any of your victim(s)
  • Appear in court as instructed;
  • Attend and participate in any court-ordered counseling;
  • Compliance with any and all court protective or restraining orders;
  • Compliance with any required electronic monitoring;
  • Prohibited contact with any of your victims (which may include family members);
  • Prohibited contact with any children, if you are convicted of a sex offense;
  • Prohibited use of drugs and/or alcohol;
  • Submit to anti-narcotic (drug) testing;
  • Complete a 52-week batterer’s prevention program (domestic violence cases);
  • Do not possess any dangerous weapons;
  • Stay away from prohibited locations;
  • Warrantless search and seizure of your person and property at any time; and
  • Do not leave the state without permission;

Behavioral Management Programs

Behavioral management programs are designed to identify and control behaviors generally associated with crimes involving abuse. They are highly structured, court and/or probation-approved and require your active participation and a cooperative attitude. Behavioral management programs are typically a mandatory condition of probation for a domestic violence conviction.

The goals of behavioral management programs are as follows:

  • To promote the end of the violence;
  • To protect the abused party, the children of the parties and other family members;
  • To provide services to families;

  • To protect the general public;
  • To hold batterers accountable for and stopping their violent behavior; and
  • To rehabilitate the batterer through appropriate interventions.
  • Most defendants convicted of a crime involving domestic violence are required to enroll in and complete a minimum of 52-weeks of education and counseling which may be related to one or all of the following:

    • Anger management;
    • Batterer’s intervention;
    • Spousal, child and/or elder abuse prevention; and
    • Substance abuse awareness.

    You are responsible for paying the costs associated with a behavioral management program. Your progress will be monitored and you may be returned to court to face consequences if you fail to complete or are otherwise discharged from a behavioral management program due to uncooperative or unacceptable behavior, including use of alcohol and/or drugs.

    Deferred Entry of Judgment (PC 1000)

    Under California Penal Code section 1000 (PC 1000), a defendant accused of simple possession and/or use of a controlled substance may be eligible for what is known as “Deferred Entry of Judgment.” Drug sales, manufacturing and transportation –related offenses are ineligible under PC 1000. In a Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ), you plead guilty, but the court does not enter the judgment, so the conviction is never finalized and you cannot be sent to jail.

    To be eligible for PC 1000, all of the following apply:

    • You must not have prior offenses involving controlled substances on your record;
    • The charges against you must not involve violence;
    • Your record must not have any revocation of probation or parole;
    • Your record must be free of any prior felony convictions for at least 5 years; and
    • The prosecutor must agree that a DEJ is appropriate in your case.

    If you successfully complete assigned programming under a DEJ, you are entitled to withdraw your guilty plea and the court must dismiss your case.

    Drug Diversion Probation (Proposition 36)

    Proposition 36 (“Prop. 36”) under Penal Code sections 1210-1210.1 is one of the alternatives to prison sentencing available to certain offenders not eligible for Deferred Entry of Judgment (DEJ). Like DEJ, Prop. 36 is an option in non-violent drug possession and drug use cases.

    In a drug diversion probation case, after you plead guilty the judge will divert you from custody by granting you probation in lieu of jail time. Among many strict conditions of your probation will be a requirement that you enroll in and complete a drug treatment program. You will be supervised by a county probation officer under formal probation.

    To be eligible for sentencing under Prop. 36, you must meet all of the following criteria:

    1. No prison sentence served for a strike (serious or violent felony) within the previous 5 years;
    2. Your current charges do not result in a conviction for a non-drug use related misdemeanor or any other felony;
    3. Your current offense did not involve the use of a firearm and you were not in possession or under the influence of hard drugs at the time;
    4. You do not refuse treatment; and
    5. You do not have two separate drug related convictions, have not participated in Prop 36 twice before, and have not been found by the court by clear and convincing evidence to be unresponsive to any and all forms of available drug treatment. In such cases, you shall be sentenced to 30 days in jail.

    Similar to a Deferred Entry of Judgment under PC 1000, if you successfully complete your drug treatment and probation under California Prop. 36, you may petition the court to dismiss your conviction.

    If you violate any of your probation conditions, the judge may revoke probation and either reinstate you, subject to a period of custody as a penalty; or terminate probation and impose a jail sentence up to the maximum punishment authorized by law for the crime for which you were convicted.

    California Drug Court

    California Drug Court pursuant to Penal Code Section 1000.5 is another drug diversion program considered an alternative form of sentencing. Drug Courts are specially designed court calendars that provide an alternative to traditional criminal justice prosecution for non-violent drug-related offenses.

    California Drug Courts are much less formal than traditional courts. They have greater autonomy over your participation unlike the more structured requirements of either PC 1000 or Prop. 36.

    For example, California Drug Court does not require you to plead guilty to any offense in order to participate. Your criminal proceedings may be suspended while you complete required programing.

    Like PC 1000 and Prop. 36, successful completion of California Drug Court will result in a dismissal of any pending charges against you. However, if you do not comply with all of the requirements of drug court, your charges may be reinstated and you could face prosecution just like in traditional criminal court.

    Wallin & Klarich Can Help You Avoid Going to Jail or Prison

    Alternative Sentencing Attorneys
    Our criminal defense lawyers are here for you.

    Depending on the charges against you and your criminal background, Wallin & Klarich may be able to help you receive an alternative sentence in your case, rather than you having to serve jail or prison time. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Wallin & Klarich today to learn more about alternatives to prison sentencing, and whether you are eligible based on the facts of your case.

    We have been successful getting alternative sentencing for many of our clients, helping them to avoid a lengthy jail or prison term. We may be able to help you keep your job, home and car while you serve your sentence in the community. Best of all, your successful completion of some alternative sentences may lead to a complete dismissal of the charges against you.

    With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 40 years of experience dealing with judges, prosecutors and probation officers throughout Southern California to help our clients favorably resolve their cases. We will do everything we can to help you get the best possible result in your case.

    Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.

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