Community service is a viable alternative punishment for anyone convicted of a crime. It is a practical solution that leverages community resources and provides offenders with an opportunity to make amends to the community by demonstrating personal accountability.
Collateral benefits include significant cost savings, especially at a time when so many Americans are imprisoned and jailed; offenders may develop or enhance their marketable job skills; and they may develop prosocial relationships that will sustain and support them in their efforts to integrate into society.
In the 1960’s Great Britain introduced community service as a punishment for certain crimes. In the United States it is often used as a humane alternative to incarceration, especially for low risk offenders. The work is typically done at a non-profit organization or through special government programs.
Community service is not trivial; it’s almost always used in combination with a fine and probation. Someone guilty of shoplifting might work off hours by doing clerical work at a drug rehabilitation center, painting a school, or clearing land for a communal garden. It may take place at a worthy charity, but it is still forced, menial, unpaid labor. In other circumstances, that’s called slavery. Plus, violate your probation and you could go to jail.
Sentencing consultants and other experts believe community service is a valuable alternative to jail or prison that helps build sustainable communities. This is especially true for young offenders who are particularly susceptible to the exposure of more serious or violent offenders in jail or prison.
Several recent articles further discuss the use of community service as a solution that works to reduce recidivism and build stronger communities. Constance Casey¹ over at Slate has this post and Wendy Feldman² at Custodial Coaching has this post, both are informative and worth reading.
1 Constance Casey’s “Doing Good” beat for the Newhouse News Service focused on charities, the politics of nonprofits, and finding good solutions to bad problems. She has written on gardening and revolting creatures for Slate.
2 Wendy Feldman, founder of Custodial Coaching, is an expert on criminal justice issues ranging from preparing for prison and re entry as well as alternatives to prison such as community service and residential treatment programs. She is author of the popular blog- Notes From an Insiderand basis her business model around her own experiences of Federal Prison after serving 16 months in a Federal Prison Camp and six months at a Federal Halfway House. Wendy is the first and only female prison consultant. Ms. Feldman strives to build awareness to the problems in our criminal justice system and offers insight and solutions to these issues. She is recognized as the leading insider on alternative sentences and re-entry. Currently, Ms. Feldman seeks to improve the relationships between ex offenders, law enforcement and the community. She is a proud member of the Pasadena Police Department’s Mental Health Advisory Committee. The Pasadena Police Department and Ms. Feldman have developed a revolutionary legal wellness program that provides outreach and resources to the community. In addition, she speaks to youth programs and at various events and law schools. Ms. Feldman is also a consultant to several media outlets and television shows.