Alternative sentencing through special problem-solving courts is better for the job prospects and earning potential of offenders.
Alternative sentencing through special problem-solving courts is better for the job prospects and earning potential of offenders. - 

Steve Chiotakis:California Governor Jerry Brown has told local officials across the state that he's going to provide enough money to cover added inmates at county lock-ups. A new state law is sending inmates convicted of lower-level offenses to county jails instead of state prison. Prison cuts are helping state budgets balance, and a lot of states are doing that by favoring alternatives to prison time for property and drug crimes. That may also raise the economic prospects for offenders.

As Marketplace's Jeff Tyler explains.

Jeff Tyler: Many states around the country are experimenting with something called accountability or problem-solving courts. Variations include drug court, DUI court and mental health court.

Marc Levin is with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He says alternative sentencing is generally for nonviolent and first-time offenders. And the programs are not easy.

Marc Levin: You have months of drug testing. If you owe restitution, you have to pay that. Holding a job is in fact a condition of the court.

Those who pass often avoid having a conviction on their record. Judith Greene follows prison trends for the nonprofit Justice Strategies.

Judith Greene: A felony conviction is a huge barrier to employment in the future. Eligibility for housing, etcetera. So it’s a big advantage for someone to go through the system and get the kind of services they need in order to get back on track, and avoid having the barriers that would face them if they got a felony conviction.

If it weren’t for problem-solving courts, 36-year old Lamont Williams says:

Lamont Williams: I would be probably in Attica. Or Sing-Sing.

For life. He had several strikes against him when he got caught shoplifting to pay for his drug habit. Now, instead of prison, he’s home in Brooklyn.

Williams: I’m clean off drugs. I have a job. I have my kids back in my life. I have goals.

A study in Virginia found that in the 18 months after re-entering the civilian job world, those who successfully completed alternative sentencing earned around $42,000, while folks who went to jail earned less than half that.

I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.

Follow Jeff Tyler at @JeffMarketplace