I choose to defend the rationale for intermediate sanctions. I believe that intermediate sanctions are a good way for the government to punish low-level offenders in a way that is less expensive to the government and less harmful to society.
In the last few decades in the United States, we have been eager to incarcerate people. We have felt that it has been absolutely necessary to punish criminals very harshly. The problem is that this has caused us to have a huge prison industry. It costs us tremendous amounts of money to incarcerate each inmate that we actually put in prison. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to me to have intermediate sanctions (when warranted) so that we can save money instead of paying to lock up people who are not a great danger to society.
In addition to saving money, intermediate sanctions are less harmful to society. If we lock up minor criminals, we tend to make it hard for them to be anything but criminals the rest of their lives. We disrupt their family lives and their work lives. This is hard on them, but it is also hard on us. It means that we are taking people and spending a lot of money to put them in prison, thus making it more likely that they will continue to commit crimes upon being released. It would surely make more sense to impose intermediate sanctions, thus making it more likely that the offenders will be able to hold down jobs, keep their families together, and do other things that help our society instead of hurting it.