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Community Service Sentencing Found Effective

Requiring criminal offenders to perform a certain number of hours of community service is a sentencing option that can be administered effectively and which appears to produce recidivism rates no worse than those produced by terms of incarceration, according to a study by Malcolm M. Feely and Richard Berk of the University of California School of Law at Berkeley.

In view of the significant cost savings of community service sentencing compared to jail terms (the average monthly cost for imprisonment was $1,416, compared to $97 for community supervision), it perhaps should be expanded to include higher-risk offenders, the researchers recommended.

Community services is an increasingly popular sentencing option, especially as courts look for alternatives to overcrowded prisons and jails Feeley and Berk noted. By the mid-1980s, approximately 9 percent of all federal offenders on probation were serving terms of community service, they said. But community service sentencing is "largely an untested idea subject to few careful evaluations."

The single biggest problem with community service sentencing is that the court must rely on work performance reports from the agencies for which the offenders work. Many of the agencies that take on offenders "do not want to assume a law enforcement function," the researchers found. "They do not want to compel recalcitrant 'volunteers' to fulfill their obligations, or even report substandard work performance.

From: Criminal Justice Newsletter, 8/1/91

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