Intermediate punishments—also known as intermediate sanctions—are more severe than traditional probation, but less costly than prison. Together with prison and probation, they form a ladder of punishments: probation at the bottom, prison at the top, and community-based, intermediate punishments on the middle rungs. Today, almost every state has at least one or two of these punishments, although almost nowhere have they been used to their full potential. Electronic monitoring and intensive supervision are among the most commonly used.

Many states have developed a systemic approach to these intermediate punishments. More than half the states, for instance, have adopted community corrections acts to permit counties to plan and control the intermediate punishments administered within their communities. And a few states have incorporated the sanctions into their sentencing guidelines to make sure that certain offenders receive these punishments rather than prison terms.

Intermediate punishments are delivered through a variety of programs: fines, intensive supervision, restitution, substance abuse treatment, electronic monitoring, boot camps and halfway houses. Different punishments may be coupled, such as restitution with intensive supervision or substance abuse treatment, or used in sequence, such as boot camp followed by intensive supervision.

The graduated range of controls also allows a probation or parole officer to decrease or increase levels of supervision as the offender’s behavior warrants. Confinement in prison or jail always remains an option for noncompliance with the terms of a sentence.