Sheriffs often defer a decision on an appropriate punishment for an offender to allow the offender to prove that their criminal behaviour was an aberration.
If they don't co-operate they could be given another, more punitive penalty.
Announcing plans to pilot the scheme in four areas across Scotland, justice minister Cathy Jamieson said:
'There are a large number of petty offenders who appear before our lower courts who might benefit from some form of social work intervention or supervision. Historically, where sentence had been deferred, there has been little opportunity for social workers to become involved in helping the offender overcome the causes of their criminal behaviour.
'Introducing structured deferred sentences as an additional option for courts will provide the opportunity for offenders to follow a programme which could include regular meetings with social work staff, and addressing those issues which might have contributed to their criminal behaviour.
'Where courts take this option, the onus is on petty offenders to prove that they want to move on and have taken steps to prevent an early experience of offending becoming a criminal career.
'If that offender takes part successfully in that programme then they are likely to be admonished, avoid a criminal record - and are less likely to re-offend. Tougher for the offender because they have to agree to being supervised in this way. Better for communities because the offender is under greater supervision.
'This is one further step in a major national initiative to increase the range and number of community sentences. Earlier this year we piloted the mandatory use of Supervised Attendance Orders for fine defaulters and last week the first minister confirmed the introduction of pilot Community Reparation Orders.
'We are committed to giving the police and the courts they need to help deliver a safer, stronger Scotland.'
Before deciding on an appropriate sentence, a sheriff may ask for a Social Enquiry Report (SER) on an offender.
Out of 34,570 SERs submitted to the courts in 2002-03, 5,023 resulted in the sheriff deciding on a deferred sentence. However in many minor cases a sheriff may proceed to a deferred sentence without calling for a SER first.
The programme that is part of the structured deferred sentence will be determined by the court and in light of individual circumstances.
It could mean, for example, that someone before the court on the back of drunken behaviour might be required to attend meetings about their behaviour with alcohol abuse organisations as well as with social workers to confront their offending.
An announcement on the four areas in which the pilot for structured deferred sentences will be made shortly.
The pilots will begin before the end of the year and run for up to two years. Decisions on further roll-out will be made on the basis of ongoing evaluation of the pilots.