Jail Alternatives


Los Angeles County chief probation officer Barry Nidorf’s excellent column (“Practical Alternatives to Jail’s Fast Shuffle,” Op-Ed Page, March 20) points up a most effective (yet underused) approach for combatting the crime and substance abuse problems that have made our city streets a battlefield. Jail and prison time alone, in part because these institutions are overcrowded, are only useful for incapacitating most offenders for brief periods of time. As Nidorf points out “house arrest,” “work sentencing,” and “work furlough” programs should be better funded to develop methodologies for nonviolent offenders who can be rehabilitated. By placing more tractable convicted criminal in close surveillance, community programs will leave more room in our jails and prisons for those dangerous offenders who need to be incapacitated.

I would add a further dimension to Nidorf’s important recommendations. Vigorous law enforcement and imprisonment are only partial and temporary solutions to the problem. Recent research reveals that around 70% of criminals arrested commit drug-related crimes. For many of these offenders, some form of mandatory drug addiction rehabilitation should be made part of their “community sentence.” In particular, there are a number of excellent therapeutic community programs for treating substance abusers now available in Los Angeles County, including Delancey Street, Phoenix House, and several at hospitals.

These programs, if properly funded through our outstanding Los Angeles County Probation Department, could become part of a comprehensive community approach that could help solve our overall homicide, gang, and addiction crime problems.



Professor of Criminology

Cal State Northridge