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Community Service

Also called Community Restorative Boards, and Neighborhood Accountability Boards

Community service is work performed by an offender for the benefit of the community as a formal or informal sanction. Just as neighborhoods and communities are harmed by criminal and delinquent activities, they can be at least partially restored by meaningful service that contributes to their improvement. Community service offers one way an offender can be held accountable to repair some of the harm caused by his or her criminal actions.

Community service is effectively used in all 50 states and at the federal level as a component of criminal sentences and juvenile adjudications involving diversion, probation, and parole. Restorative justice practices in institutions are also beginning to incorporate community service sanctions for infractions that have a detrimental impact on the "community" of a prison or detention center.

Goals

The goals of community service include:

  • Holding offenders accountable for the harm they have caused to the community.
  • Providing communities with human resources that can improve the quality of life in public environments, business, and even individual residences.
  • Helping offenders develop new skills through supervised work activities.
  • Allowing victims a voice and occasionally some direct benefit by recommending the type of community service performed.

Implementation

Successful community service programs require a true public-private partnership. Residents in a community can enhance efforts of the criminal and juvenile justice systems by providing meaningful work experiences, volunteering to supervise offenders sentenced to community service, and serving as mentors for adjudicated youth in community service capacities. Examples of community service include: public work programs that beautify a community's environment such as park and roadside cleanup efforts or graffiti removal. Truly restorative community service offers crime victims the opportunity to provide input into the types of community service they would like to see the offender perform, including activities that directly benefit the victim or a charity or project of the victim's choice. Community service can also benefit victim service organizations, for example, by providing bookkeeping services to a rape crisis center or other valuable support, as described in the example below.

Lessons Learned

Reports from around the country detail extraordinary success with community service practices. Deschutes Oregon Community Corrections, a pioneer in BARJ practices, accomplished a number of human service and public works tasks, including construction of a homeless shelter and domestic abuse crisis center. Offenders raised the money to pay for the building materials as well as provided the construction labor.

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) collaborates with the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), Habitat for Humanity and other not-for-profit organizations to enable prison inmates to create housing components for homes for low-income families. Since 1995, more than 6,000 inmates at 23 federal, state and county correctional centers in Illinois have given back to their communities while learning valuable trade skills as they have built components for more than 500 homes.

Likewise, both young people and adults around Illinois are involved with community service projects that build competencies, pay back to the community, and create relationships that assist in lowering recidivism rates.

Practices