Instead of jail or fines (or in addition to them), judges often order defendants to perform work for the community, measured in hours or projects.
Judges can sentence defendants to perform unpaid community work called “community service.” A defendant may be required to perform community service in addition to receiving some other form of punishment, such as probation, a fine, or paying restitution.
Types of Community Service Work
Typically, offenders are assigned to work for nonprofit or government agencies, such as parks, libraries, schools, cemeteries, religious institutions, and drug and alcohol treatment centers. They may be sentenced to do a wide range of work—from cleaning highways to lecturing students on the dangers of drunk driving. In one very effective community service program, gang member offenders work in a home for mentally and physically challenged children, helping them to dress, eat, and play.
Some offenders do community service work in group settings with other offenders; others work alone. They may be supervised directly by the nonprofit group or government agency they work for or by the probation department. And they may have to report to the court or probation officer at regularly scheduled times to prove that they are complying with the community service order.
Failing to Complete Community Service
Defendants who fail to complete their community service hours risk being brought back to court for re-sentencing. The judge will usually have the option of imposing jail time. If you've been sentenced to community service, be sure that you have some form of documentation that proves that you showed up, worked, and stayed as long as you were supposed to. Nothing short of a "time card' will work--don't take the chance that shoddy record-keeping at the other end will jeopardize your performance.