Community sentence or alternative sentencing or non-custodial sentence is a collective name in criminal justice for all the different ways in which courts can punish a defendant who has been convicted of committing an offence, other than through a custodial sentence (serving a jail or prison term) or capital punishment (death).
Traditionally, the theory of retributive justice is based on the ideas of retaliation (punishment), which is valuable in itself, and also provides deterrent. Before the police, sentences of execution or imprisonment were thought pretty efficient at this, while at the same time removing the threat criminals pose to the public (protection). Alternative sentences add to these goals, trying to reform the offender (rehabilitation), and put right what he did (reparation).
Traditionally, victims of a crime only played a small part in the criminal justice process, as this breaching the rules of the society. The restorative approach to justice approach often makes it a part of a sentence for the offender to apologize, compensate the damage they have caused or repair it with their own labour.
The shift towards alternative sentencing means that some offenders avoid imprisonment with its many unwanted consequences. This is beneficial for the society, as it may prevent them from getting into the so-called the revolving door syndrome, the inability of a person to go back to normal life after leaving a prison, becoming a career criminal. Furthermore, there are hopes that this could alleviate prison overcrowding and reduce the cost of punishment.
Instead of depriving those who commit less dangerous offences (such as summary offences) of their freedom, the courts put some limitations on them and give them some duties. The list of components that make up a community sentence is of course different in individual countries, and will be combined individually by the court. Non-custodial sentences can include:
- unpaid work (this can be called community payback or community service)
- house arrest
- suspended sentence (that means that breaking the law during a sentence may lead to imprisonment)
- wearing an electronic tag
- mandatory treatments and programmes (drug or alcohol treatment, psychological help, back to work programmes,)
- apology to the victim
- specific court orders and injunctions (not to drink alcohol, not to go to certain pubs, meet certain people)
- regular reporting to someone (offender manager, probation)
- judicial corporal punishment 
- "Community sentences". Gov.UK. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
- "Orders". Corrections, Prisons & Parole. State Government of Victoria, Australia. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
- "Retributive Justice". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 18 June 2014. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
- "Types of Sentences". Citizens Information. Citizens Information Board, Ireland. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
- Larson, Aaron. "Sentencing in Criminal Cases - Fines, Probation and Jail". ExpertLaw. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
- "Alternative Sentencing". ABA Journal. 73 (13). 1 November 1987. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
- J.D. Gleissner, "Prison Overcrowding Cure: Judicial Corporal Punishment of Adults," Vol. 49, Issue 4, Criminal Law Bulletin Art. 2 (Summer 2013).