The purpose of this article is to assess the role of alternatives to custody in relation to the prison system, and to suggest tentative ways in which they can trigger a real process of decarceration. Our analysis will focus on England and Wales (hereafter, «England») and Italy, two countries whose different judicial philosophies epitomise how social problems are perceived, and can be tackled, within a Common Law framework on the one hand, and a Codified Law framework on the other. In this article the choice of the term «alternatives to custody» instead of «community sentences», is due merely to comparative purposes. Surely, the two countries under examination present with widely different «cultures of punishment», as can be elicited from their respective imprisonment rates. These are 93.3 per 100,000 population-for the UK, and 55.1 for Italy (Council of Europe, 1992). These incarceration rates seem to indicate much more a difference in the «demand for punishment» than a substantial difference in the respective aspects of offending (see, Wilkins, 1991).
Nevertheless, we believe that England and Italy may be regarded as exemplary cases of two diverse judicial traditions which, due to recent circumstances and developments, are beginning to converge. In other words, the two traditions, England's Common Law and the Italian Napoleonic traditions are in a sense moving towards one another. We allude, for example, to the shift of the Italian procedural code from an inquisitorial towards an accusatorial model (Nappi, 1989). Conversely, we are thinking about the call for a written set of general laws in Britain and for precise measurable penalties as opposed to traditional jurisprudence and court discretion (Mount, 1991; Charter 88, 1992; Benn, 1993).