This module is a resource for lecturers   


Guidelines to develop a stand-alone course


This Module provides an outline for a three-hour course. It has the potential, however, to be developed into a stand-alone course. The information in each section and sub-section could easily be developed and expanded, and further debated and discussed by students. The structure could be determined by local interests and needs, but a possible structure is presented below.



Brief description

Week 1


Introduction of Module structure - lecturer to briefly describe/introduce the six key aims of the Module, the five different parts, and the assessment methodology. Explore student familiarity with alternatives to imprisonment. Go through the definition of key terminology, and discus the key question: To what extent should non-custodial measures be referred to as ambulant sanctions? Go through Exercises 1 and/or 2. Use video clips to illustrate and discuss the problems of rising prison populations to set the scene for the topic for Week 2.

Week 2

Aims and significance of alternatives to imprisonment

Lecture and discussion on why alternatives to imprisonment are an important part of the criminal justice system. To include during the first part of the lecture information and discussions on the growth of prison populations worldwide, and the related problems of overcrowding, poor prison conditions, inhumane treatment and problems of reoffending. Students to consider the main reasons for this growth, but also the extent to which imprisonment is overused in their country, and what life might be like in a local prison. The second part of the lecture to focus and assess the main aims of alternatives to imprisonment, as well as the potential risks. Include Exercise 3 focusing on the question: 'What are the main advantages and disadvantages of non-custodial sanctions?'.

Week 3

Justifications of criminal punishment

Lecture to introduce students to the five main justifications of punishment: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation and reparation. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each justification? Lecturer to question the relative weight that should be given to these aims within the criminal justice system. Discussion around the key question: To what extent can non-custodial measures achieve the different aims of criminal punishment? ( Exercise 4).

Week 4

Decriminalization, diversion and alternatives to pretrial detention

Lecture to introduce students to the importance of pretrial alternatives. Lecture and student discussion on (i) decriminalization, (ii) diversion strategies and (iii) alternatives to pretrial detention. Key questions for discussion to include:

1. What actions or behaviour should be decriminalized in your country? Lecturer to encourage students to consider what used to be considered a crime in their country and is not classified as criminal behaviour now (refer to Exercise 1). Students can also consider examples from other jurisdictions.

2. What strategies might divert offenders away from the criminal justice system? Which criminal justice agency might play a significant role in diversion strategies?

3. What are the main human rights arguments for reducing the use of pretrial detention? What are the main challenges in implementing alternatives to pretrial detention?

Week 5

Alternatives at sentencing - 'front door measures'

Lecture identifying the wide range of alternatives to imprisonment at the sentencing stage ('front door measures'), according to international standards ( The Tokyo Rules). Key question to be addressed: To what extent can 'front door' measures achieve the overarching aims of punishment? Discussion on the key agencies who need to be involved in implementing alternatives to imprisonment, as well as the potential challenges. Deliver and discuss Exercise 5 - 'you be the judge' - as a way to engage students with a variety of non-custodial measures, as well as with the (challenging) role of being a judge.

Week 6

Alternatives post sentencing - 'back door measures'

Lecture and discussion on the alternatives to imprisonment post sentencing. Introduce students to the wide range of post sentencing alternatives needed to avoid institutionalization and promote reintegration. Discussion on the key agencies who need to be involved, as well as the potential challenges. Key question for discussion: What are the advantages and disadvantages of 'back door' measures? At the beginning or end of this session, include Exercise 2 if possible and introduce a guest speaker or a video of a local practitioner who works in the field of alternatives to imprisonment.

Week 7

Evaluating alternatives

Lecture and discussion on the pros and cons of alternatives to imprisonment. Key questions to include: What are the main advantages or benefits compared to imprisonment? What are the problems/limitations? In depth analysis of the research on the effectiveness of alternatives. Debate on 'Why are alternatives to imprisonment often not supported by politicians and the media?' and/or 'What barriers need to be overcome to implement effective alternatives to imprisonment?'

Week 8

Alternatives to imprisonment for special categories of offenders, innovative practice around the world and course re-cap and review.

Lecture identifying the special categories of offenders who might be particularly vulnerable to the negative impact of imprisonment: children; mentally ill persons; individuals with drug use disorders and women. Key question: How can children, mentally ill persons, offenders with drug use disorders and women be kept out of the criminal justice system? In depth analysis/student discussion of good practice from the country, or international examples. Key question: What examples of promising practice and alternatives to imprisonment exist in your country? Course recap and review to highlight assessment methodology.


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