Alternatives to incarceration (ATIs) are primarily designed for criminal offenders who have an underlying substance abuse disorder driving their criminal conduct. Such conduct does not necessarily refer to crimes related to substance use (e.g., possession), but also to those committed while under the influence of psychoactive substances (e.g., driving under the influence) and those committed to obtain money to purchase such substances (e.g., theft).
These programs provide these justice-involved individuals with the option of choosing treatment and rehabilitation under judicial supervision, and in coordination with a multidisciplinary team, instead of incarceration.
By focusing on the treatment of the underlying substance abuse disorder, ATI programs address the underlying cause of the criminal conduct rather than the symptoms. As such, alternatives to incarceration can help break the "revolving door" of criminal behavior, substance abuse, and imprisonment.
ATI programs generally employ a multi-sector approach, combining expertise from the criminal justice system, public health, and social integration services. As such, they often also stimulate collaboration between those sectors more broadly.
The most well-known and well-studied ATI is the drug treatment court (DTC) model, which can operate in both the pre-trial and post-conviction phases of the criminal justice system. Nonetheless, DTCs are just one of many ATI models that operate across the Americas. Other models include primary diversion and deflection programs, re-entry programs, restorative justice, community courts, community justice, and some other therapeutic justice approach-based models.