The notion of “community service” is probably familiar to you. In many ways, the work itself is very similar to volunteer work or what some churches call “service hours,” but there’s a key difference between volunteer work and community service – the people who perform community service don’t have a choice and it’s not voluntary, it’s mandatory.
Community service is a form of court-ordered punishment; however, unlike a fine or victim restitution, it involves actual work. Community service is meant to make offenders repay the communities that have been harmed by their criminal behavior. Community service is a sort of “amends,” an opportunity for offenders to make up for their mistakes.
Community Service is Tailored to the Offender
Judges have a lot of discretion when it comes to ordering community service. They cannot take a cookie-cutter approach to the process. Instead, judges must tailor the community service to the offender. The community service cannot put the community at risk and it cannot be unreasonably harsh.
As long as it meets that criteria, judges have all kinds of community service options available. Community service is often ordered as a condition of supervision or probation, but sometimes it’s ordered as a stand-alone sentence. It’s available for non-violent offenses, but it’s not usually available for defendants who are facing life imprisonment or the death penalty. Community service is generally not suitable for people with:
- A substance abuse problem
- A history of sexual offenses
- A history of violent crimes
- Serious mental illness
How the Court Uses Community Service
You know that community service is unpaid work, typically for a civic or nonprofit organization, such as a substance abuse program, a soup kitchen, a public library, or a conservation program, but you may not know that the court uses it for:
- Restricting an offender’s personal liberty while he or she is on supervision or probation. The goal is to forfeit the person’s leisure time.
- Rehabilitating the individual.
- Instilling a work ethic, especially in someone who has a history of theft.
- Developing interests and skills in offenders who may otherwise turn to a life of crime.
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