Criminology Intermediate Sanctions
Stephanie N. Whitehead
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0323


Intermediate sanctions are a form of criminal punishment that lie between total confinement and probation. They are less restrictive than total confinement in prisons and jails, but more concentrated and centered than probation. The primary forms of intermediate sanctions include boot camps, halfway houses, intensive supervision programs (ISP), home confinement, electronic monitoring, and monetary penalties (fines and restitution). Each of these sanctions are designed to fulfill a specific purpose in penalizing an offender. Intermediate sanctions are primarily used for certain populations of offenders—offenders whose risks and needs assessments demonstrate that they will benefit from punishment in a community setting. The use of intermediate sanctions as a form of punishment has a long history. Galileo, for example, was famously punished with home confinement in the early 1600s. It was not until the 1980s and 1990s, however, that intermediate sanctions became broadly used as a form of punishment. The intermediate sanction system today is diverse and complex, making it difficult to determine the number of offenders involved or even the number and type of intermediate sanctions that exist in different jurisdictions. Despite the lack of consistent information, it appears that every state now incorporates intermediate sanctions into its collection of possible punishments and that they are a consistent part of correctional practice used in a majority of criminal cases. Intermediate sanctions are often used in combination with probation. They have often become “add on” sentences used to rectify a specific aspect of the criminal behavior being punished.

General Overviews

Research on intermediate sanctions as a whole is somewhat dated in favor of information about individual programs. Therefore, most general overviews are older articles and reports. Tonry 1997 is the most informational overview. In this report, Tonry lays out the definition of intermediate sanctions, its history, and use in the United States. Tonry and Lynch 1996 expands on this report offering insight into the politics of intermediate sanctions. Petersilia and Turner 1989, McGarry 1990, and Langon 1994 all provide useful introductions to the topic with varying discussions on particular types of programming. Byrne, et al. 1992 offers a nice historical account of how intermediate sanctions grew in the context of the 1980s.

  • Byrne, Jim, Arthur Lurigio, and Joan Petersilia. 1992. Smart sentencing: The emergence of intermediate sanctions. London and Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

    This report offers an overview of intermediate sanctions and the different types of sanctions that are used. Includes a discussion of the “net widening” debate with intermediate sanctions and discussions about the future of its use.

  • Harris, Patricia, Rebecca Peterson, and Samantha Rapoza. 2001. Between probation and revocation: A study of intermediate sanctions decision making. Journal of Criminal Justice 29.4: 307–318.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0047-2352(01)00090-3

    This article examines the role of accountability and proportionality in punishment decision-making about intermediate sanctions. Using discriminant analyses, the study found that indicators of proportionality and accountability helped to predict which violators remained under traditional supervision, graduated to intermediate sanctions, or got revoked.

  • Langon, Patrick. 1994. Between prison and probation: Intermediate sanctions. Science 264.5160: 791–793.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.264.5160.791

    This article points out the lax use of intermediate sanctions in the United States. Findings indicated that intermediate sanctions were not being used at a high rate and that up to 90 percent of offenders were receiving probation or prison. Discusses the need for further adoption of intermediate sanctions for cost-benefit purposes.

  • McGarry, Peggy. 1990. Intermediate sanctions. Community Corrections Quarterly 1.3: 1–6.

    This work offers an overview of intermediate sanctions and the forces driving the expansion of their use. Includes a thorough discussion of what officials can do to increase the chances of offender success when using intermediate sanctions.

  • Petersilia, Joan, and Susan Turner. 1989. Reducing prison admissions: The potential of intermediate sanctions. The Journal of State Government 62:65–69.

    This article offers an overview of intermediate sanctions and some of the types that are used. It includes a discussion of the types of offenders that receive intermediate sanctions and how some who would benefit from programs are left out due to limits in eligibility.

  • Phelps, Michelle. 2013. The paradox of probation: Community supervision in the age of mass incarceration. Law & Policy 35.1–2: 51–80.

    DOI: 10.1111/lapo.12002

    This article addresses the possible net-widening effect of intensive supervision and its role in mass incarceration. The author argues that the increased use of intensive supervision both adds and detracts from mass incarceration in complex ways.

  • Tonry, Michael H. 1997. Intermediate sanctions in sentencing guidelines. Washington, DC: U.S. National Institute of Justice.

    This report describes the efforts of different states to design intermediate sanctions policies. It also addresses the implementation strategies across different states. It begins with a nice overview of intermediate sanctions, types, and existing programs. There is a good discussion on net widening and how new and better guidelines might be a way to limit it.

  • Tonry, Michael H. 2004. The future of imprisonment. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This edited book highlights discussions about the future of prisons in the 21st century. Leading authors in the field address an array of topics including the future of intermediate sanctions.

  • Tonry, Michael H., and Mary Lynch. 1996. Intermediate sanctions. In Crime and Justice: A Review of Research. Edited by Michael H. Tonry, 1–46. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This article provides a thorough overview of intermediate sanctions. The authors argue that intermediate sanctions have largely failed to achieve their purposes given the large number of revocations and subsequent incarceration of offenders. They address net widening as a problematic issue and how programs must be used for those offenders for whom they are designed.

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