You don't have to go to jail if convicted of a crime. There are alternative sentences, most of them more lenient than serving jail time, which the court may offer you. Your chance of getting an alternative sentence is better if your situation meets most of these conditions:
Your Alleged Crime Doesn't Carry a Mandatory Prison Sentence
You stand a good chance of getting an alternative sentence if your offense doesn't have a mandatory prison sentence. Some crimes attract minimum sentences not even the judge can lower, even with extenuating circumstances. Your sentence can only worsen, but not reduce, if you are convicted of committing such a crime. It doesn't even matter whether you plead guilty and avoid a trial; your sentence will not be less than that set by the law (federal or state).
You Aren't a Danger to the Society
You aren't likely to be given an alternative sentence if the court deems you are a danger to the society. In this case, sending you to prison is a way of making society safe from you. The definition of who is a danger to the society is up to the court. However, in most cases, you will be considered a danger to the society if you have been convicted of a violent crime, such as murder.
It's Your First Offense
Alternative sentences are meted out for those who are seen as not deserving of harsher measures. The rationale is that the punishment of a crime should just be enough to punish the wrongdoer, but nothing more. Therefore, if you have been convicted of your first offense, you may be handed the more lenient alternative sentences instead of the harsher prison sentence. However, if you are a repeat offender, then the court assumes that the previous sentence did not teach you the error of your ways. In that case, you are more likely to get a serious (read prison time) sentence.
You Are Only Facing One Charge
Being charged with multiple offenses may also preclude you from getting an alternative sentence. For example, if you have been charged with assault, breaking and entering and shoplifting, then it may be difficult to secure an alternative sentence. It will be more difficult than, say, if your only charge is breaking and entering.
An alternative sentence may give you a way to avoid the stigma associated with former convicts, so you should try your best to go for it if your lawyer suggests it. Qualification for alternative sentences may vary by state. It may also involve some form of plea bargaining. This is one of the reasons you ought to consult a lawyer, like those at Devine Law PC, before entering any plea.