Community service has long been a staple of sentencing in the United States, with many jurisdictions looking to incorporate it as part of efforts to reform local justice systems. Yet there has been surprisingly little study of how it's actually used across the country.
Our study draws on a survey of more than 600 lower-level courts across the country. Results suggest many courts are adopting an ad hoc approach to issues related to community service such as eligibility, mandate lengths, compliance, and oversight of outside service programs. Numerous findings also suggest current practices are undercutting the potential of community service to act as an alternative to fines and fees.
The study concludes with a series of recommendations—most notably, a call for further research to help in developing the shared standards and evidence-based models the field currently lacks.
On our New Thinking podcast, a discussion of our report's findings with Joanna Weiss of the Fines and Fees Justice Center.