General Question

flo's avatar

What do you think of community service as punishment?

Asked by flo (11336points) June 5th, 2014

Does it not undermine community service? Working in soup kitchens for x number of hours for example? Isn’t that most people choose to do happily?

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26 Answers

josie's avatar

When acts of charity are voluntary, they build self esteem and empathy.
When they are forced they breed cynicism and contempt.

El_Cadejo's avatar

I had to do community service twice. Honestly, I actually enjoyed it, the first time I went to a library(which resulted in me reading a lot more) and the second time I went to a nature reserve. I ended up staying on at the nature reserve a lot longer after my community service hours were completed because I enjoyed it. I highly doubt I would have willingly volunteered to start working there on my own if not for the circumstances.

flo's avatar

@josie I agree.
@El_Cadejo I totally see that.
So, I know not everyone belongs in prison but…

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think it’s fine. Who cares if they get cynical? At least they got something productive done.

flo's avatar

@Dutchess_III But the message that might unintentionally get sent is that community service is not a desirable thing, it is a punishment.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, they probably would never do it anyway.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@flo “he message that might unintentionally get sent is that community service is not a desirable thing”

When has doing work without pay ever been looked at as a “desirable thing”? It seems those who do community service are already motivated to help those around them or have a passion in whatever that job is so they don’t mind doing it. I don’t think some getting punished to do it will dissuade others. There are also the cases like me where I got a punishment, had to do something good and then kept doing good afterwards. Would it be preferred if I just paid money to the court and was done with it?

flo's avatar

@Dutchess_III and @El_Cadejo I mean the message not to them, but to the general public, kids for example.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

If the community service is useful and meaningful I’m all for it. I’d rather see people who’ve committed a minor crime being useful and doing something that helps the community than in a jail. However, similarly to work-for-the-dole type schemes, it shouldn’t humiliate the individual and it shouldn’t take work away from other people. A lot of the work allocated for work-for-the-dole type schemes is currently carried out by contractors. If we take their work, they end up on the dole. That’s not really solving the problem of welfare dependency or helping the community in the case of ‘community service’ programs.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@flo I know that’s what you meant. What I mean is if you as a person are predisposed to help others or animals, you are going to volunteer at these places for the opportunity to get to do something you love, it won’t matter if someone else is doing the very same thing as a punishment, you’re still getting meaningful things out of it.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

My single run-in with forced community service was washing police cars. Not exactly “rewarding.” The community service I have done on my own has been a mixed bag. Working with the homeless has brought me pessimism. I have done charity work with the elderly that was very rewarding. I’m hoping my future service with the volunteer fire department will also be rewarding.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Now how would the general public or kids know the reason behind a person doing community service? Lots of people volunteer. It’s not like the person who has to do it as “punishment” has to wear a sign or someting.

ibstubro's avatar

I think community service is a great alternative. These people aren’t avoiding prison. They’re avoiding fines that they may not be able to pay and non-productive time sitting in a jail cell, where they might lose their jobs and be even more desperate.

So, then the question becomes:
“Would you rather someone be assessed a $500 fine that they cannot pay which lands them in jail, or do 100 hours of community service.”
“Would you rather someone lay in a jail cell reading for 30 days while their job evaporates, or do 100 hours of community service?

Rarely is the ordered community service a factor in the actual punishment. Boy George, comes to mind, as the punishment seemed like a very public way of humiliating him. Even then, it was within the judge’s discretion, and what he believed the best course.

Seek's avatar

Well, I know I live in Florida which is a fascist state hellbent on returning debtor’s prison, but here, you still have to pay fines if you’re doing community service. You pay them directly to your misdemeanor probation provider – which in my county is run by and for the profit of the Salvation Army. Don’t EVEN get me started on how huge a violation of church/state separation that is. Show up once a week to hand in money to some church whose employees get to decide whether that signature on your assigned community service hours documentation is valid or not.

JLeslie's avatar

Fundamentally I don’t see a problem with it. When it becomes a racket and seems to go against things like separation of church and state like @Seek describes, or is making corporations money, it drives me crazy.

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

Court-mandated community service isn’t punishment, it’s restitution. The convict has offended or damaged society, and so is expected to provide a service to restore the balance.

poofandmook's avatar

Depending on the type of community service, it’s pretty bad and understandable why it would be used as a punishment. Working in a library, nature reserve, soup kitchen? Okay, I can do that. Picking up garbage on the streets of NYC… like Boy George did… no sir, and no ma’am… that’s punishment. Serving the homeless = great. Picking up hot garbage = no.

LostInParadise's avatar

It is unfortunate that community service is viewed only as a punishment. Whatever happened to the idea of rehabilitating criminals? It someone commits a crime against society, it makes perfectly good sense to try to reintegrate the person into the community, by doing service.

Berserker's avatar

I don’t know enough about the justice system to know if this is a valid form of punishment or not. I was going to suggest that community service is probably handed out to people of low income who cannot pay restitution or fines, but who have not committed a bad enough crime to land in jail. (hence why many young people are given this community service)

However, after reading the answers here, I would be wrong. (but I don’t budge from my thoughts that the justice system is based on money)

But I do think it’s a good thing. I’ve had community service when I was 16 for shoplifting cosmetics. lol stupid bitch I did 50 hours in a homeless shelter. This also included free dinner every night I went, and I went there whenever I wanted; as long as all 50 hours were completed within a certain time limit. So I can’t whine about excessive punishment, plus although I lived in a poor neighborhood and knew full well what poverty was, I got my eyes opened as to what it’s really like for some who have no home, and how society discards the mentally ill. Seriously that place was a fucking mess. Never broke any laws again after that. Somewhere, I must have learned something.

I’m guessing it doesn’t serve as a lesson for everyone, but hopefully many take away something productive out of community service. I think it’s a good way to give young people a bit of a chance without letting them off the hook. Peeps gots ta learn…and if they don’t, well learn how to fashion your own blades in prison later on, haha. I think justice is crooked, but at least it gives chances and options, whatever their intent is behind that, might as well be thankful.

DWW25921's avatar

Fantastic question… I used to work in a dog rescue… just to help animals! Being a decent person doesn’t magically happen when one is forced to do it…

JLeslie's avatar

@LostInParadise Great point. I think for juvenile offenders there is a hope they will find something better to do with their time. It isn’t punishment as much as it is a hope they find some reward in helping and interacting with people who want to do some good.

flo's avatar

Thank you all. Great answers.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Hell, they just use it so the city can get some free labor!

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III That too. I’m fine with that.

ibstubro's avatar

Most community service is volunteering at local not-for-profits, @Dutchess_III not working for the city. Only large urban areas would have enough offenders to make managing a government program worthwhile.

They require high school community service in a small town nearby, and it doesn’t even have to be at a nonprofit. The kids can go to the store and volunteer to carry purchases to cars for free, and as long as the store will sign off, they’re good.

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