Manama: A judge in Saudi Arabia has offered a defendant the option to do community service as an alternative to incarceration.

The judge said the defendant accused of brandishing a weapon could either spend three months in jail or clean the general prison for five hours a day for one week.

The judge, Yasser Al Balawi, has gained a reputation for promoting alternatives to jail terms to help defendants reintegrate into society and spare their families more pain and anguish if they are separated from them, local daily Al Watan said on Wednesday.

The judge, by pushing for alternatives, also seeks to avoid contact between some defendants and inmates with criminal records.

In his comments on the ruling, Al Balawi said that sentences are left to the discretion of the judges who must help to rehabilitate defendants through compassion.

Several studies have shown that jail sentences have negative impacts on the families of prisoners as well, he said.

Social media users lauded the judge for his attitude and called on other judges to emulate his example.

In November, Saudi Arabia’s High Judiciary Council told the local courts to implement the concept of alternatives to prison to help reduce crowding in the country’s jails.

In a note to all courts, the council said the concept of alternatives to prison was among the recommendations reached by the interior ministry’s centre for research on combating crimes after it conducted a study on the crimes related to “disobedience to parents” and held several workshops on the issue.

Alternative options to spending time in jail include working in homes for the elderly, engaging in ritual washing of corpses, digging graves and providing services at rehabilitation centres.

The council said that the courts should play an active role in the alternatives to prison to help ease the number of inmates.

According to local reports, the Ministry of Justice is working on a new alternative sentence law that would be the legal framework needed by judges to issue verdicts that would keep offenders out of jail and do community work instead in a bid to reduce the number of prisoners by 50 per cent.

The alternatives under the new law would be confined to punishments for minor cases including attempts to flirt with women, public quarrels and certain cases of domestic violence.

The alternative sentences currently issued by some courts have been handed down based on the judges’ discretion.