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Study shows unfairness in community service sentencing

When Colorado residents imagine community service sentencing, they may think of it as a beneficial program that helps people avoid jail time without paying costly fines that they cannot afford. However, one study indicates that community service can further entrench some of the very problems it is touted to alleviate. Most people who are sentenced to community service have low incomes, and they opt for community service because they cannot pay a fine and do not want to deal with extensive court debt that could spark later legal repercussions.

The report highlights the fact that community service sentencing often means that people must work for weeks at a time on a full-time basis without being paid for their labor. They studied 5,000 cases of people ordered to perform community service between 2013 and 2014. The report noted that 8 million hours of community service work were ordered in Los Angeles County during this time period, covering work that could have been done by 4,900 paid employees. It noted that government agencies received 3 million hours of free labor, the equivalent of work for 1,800 paid jobs. Therefore, community service may not only make the person sentenced less available for paid work, but it can also exacerbate unemployment in surrounding communities.

The report also took issue with the length of many community service sentences, noting that defendants' labor was being undervalued concerning the amount of the fines they would have been assessed otherwise. It noted that one-quarter of defendants were sentenced to at least 155 hours of labor to pay off their fines.

Community service sentences can accompany a criminal conviction, which can interfere with opportunities for housing, education and employment. An individual facing criminal charges can consult with a defense attorney about working to challenge police allegations and avoid a conviction.

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