Law: Considering The Alternatives

Crowded prisons spark less confining punishments

Jim Guerra sells cars today in Dallas. He used to sell cocaine in Miami. In 1984, after being robbed and even kidnaped by competitors, he decided it was time for a career change. He gave up drugs -- and the drug trade -- and headed out to Texas for a new law-abiding life. The old life caught up with him anyway. In December 1985 federal agents arrested him on charges connected to his Florida coke dealing. After pleading guilty last spring, Guerra faced 15 years in prison.

He never went. These days Guerra, 32, is putting in time instead of doing...