Judges in Illinois are often reluctant to send defendants to jail, and this is especially true if the crime involved is minor or the defendant has demonstrated genuine remorse. Placing offenders behind bars may do more harm than good, and many jails are dangerously overcrowded. However, there are a number of alternative sentences that judges may hand down when incarcerating a defendant seems excessive or unnecessary.
Suspending a sentence, ordering a defendant to serve probation or requiring the payment of a fine are common non-custodial sanctions, and they may sometimes be combined by judges. A motorist convicted of drunk driving may be placed on probation and ordered to pay a fine. Judges may also insist that strict conditions be adhered to when handing down a non-custodial sentence. Offenders with a history of substance abuse may be ordered to attend drug or alcohol counseling, and those whose actions could have led to serious harm could be required to attend a victim impact panel.
Pragmatic judges may seek to save taxpayers money and ease the financial burdens on cash-strapped municipalities by ordering offenders to perform community service. Municipal workers who perform tasks such as clearing debris from highways or shoveling snow can be put to more productive use when non-violent offenders are brought in. Judges may sometimes choose an alternative to jail because they wish to see the offender make restitution to crime victims. Restitution could involve the payment of financial compensation or the performance of an act like repairing damaged property.
Criminal defense attorneys may suggest non-custodial sentences during plea negotiations after pointing out mitigating factors to prosecutors. While judges may choose to not follow a sentencing recommendation included in a plea agreement, crowded dockets and jails could make them reluctant to do so.