What is Community Service?

By Teo Spengler - Updated April 17, 2018
Man in rubber gloves collecting rubbish

Community service is good for the community and also is thought to improve the moral character of the person performing the service. That's why it's hard to argue with the practice of requiring someone convicted of a criminal offense to complete a certain number of hours of community service. The community is benefited, and the convicted person has a chance to repair some of the harm he inflicted through his misbehavior.

Tip

Community service involves doing volunteer work for the good of the community as part of the requirements of probation when you have been convicted of a crime.

When Do You Have to Do Community Service?

When someone is convicted of one of the less serious crimes, the court may require the person to perform community service as part of her sentence. Alternatively, the court may offer to reduce a fine or a period behind bars if the convicted person agrees to do a prescribed amount of community service. Note that community service is not assigned as punishment for a violent felony like murder or rape.

Community service in this context means working without pay for a nonprofit organization, like a soup kitchen, or another agency that does good work for the community, like groups that clean up garbage beside the roadways, plant trees in the park or remove graffiti from school buses.

Sometimes the court permits the person to decide where she would like to work off her community service obligation. In other cases, the court will tailor the community service to the crime committed. For example, someone convicted of littering might be required to pick up litter. The agency or organization involved must document the hours the person works and keep the court informed.

What is the Purpose of Community Service?

The idea behind community service is to have the convicted person do an activity that benefits the community and partially compensates for the harm done. Community service orders provide valuable unpaid work to the community as an alternative to incarceration. The idea works well when the service requirement is designed to repair the harm done to the community by the offense.

The Benefits of Community Service

The community benefits from the practice of assigning community service to those convicted of less serious crimes. More volunteer work gets accomplished, whether it is the local park being cleaned up or the senior center being painted. It can make the convicted person feel as if he is making true amends for his misbehavior and help him commit to a new way of behaving. It also might lighten the person's fines or decrease jail time.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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