Is Community Service Really a Punishment?

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The modern concept of community service as a punishment began in Great Britain in the late 1960s and has become increasingly popular with judges who find they can be more flexible and humane in punishing offenders unlikely to commit another crime. Those guilty of offenses like shoplifting, writing bad checks, possessing small amounts of illegal drugs, or hurling cell phones, are required to work a certain number of hours for the good of the community, usually in a local nonprofit or government facility. (The judges' rule of thumb: Six hours of work equals one day in jail.)... Whether the work itself is useful or not, this kind of sentencing is certainly helpful to the criminal justice system in a time of budget deficits and overcrowded prisons. (We have more people locked up than any other nation and lead the world in incarceration rates at 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in the population. California may have to release prisoners.) Community service is practical as well as humane. It saves court time because few of these cases go to trial. The charges are generally dismissed once community service is done and the fine paid. The state saves the high cost of a prisoner's daily care. Is community service helpful to the community by making offenders less likely to commit crimes in the future? Sentencing experts point to the good outcomes for young offenders, where time in jail would very likely have made them more dangerous. We'd like to believe older offenders can be transformed by serving their communities, but the few studies on the subject are inconclusive. There's not much evidence that such sentencing significantly reduces recidivism.... Recent examples of celeb community service sentencing bring up the tension that runs throughout our justice system. Is it fair? Not really: The moneyed and better-educated defendant almost invariably does better. A Houston study found whites there were more likely to be assigned community service sentences than...
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