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Community Service Sentences Instead of Imprisonment for Minor Non-Violent Crimes

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By ankit666
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As the Prison system is overburdened, judges are giving Community Service Sentences instead of imprisonment for Minor Non-Violent Crimes. Will this be good for the society in the long run?

Offences that are defined as Minor Non-Violent Offences are those that are against the law but are not usually viewed as serious enough to be taken to the court if done once or twice (Notton, 2010). An example of non violent offence is burglary or motor vehicle theft. Community Service is an alternative of imprisonment imposed by the Court for minor non violent crimes. Community service is an unpaid work for the criminal so that he can repay the debt to the society for committing the offense (An tSeirbhis Phromhaidh The Probation Service, n.d.). Community service can also be a job for which any particular individual can volunteer for. An example of a community service is cleaning up the environment. Giving community service sentences instead of imprisonment for minor non-violent crimes would be good for the society in the long run because the criminal will get a second chance in life, it will reduce the burden on the prison system and society will benefit from community service. However individuals may take advantage of the system by taking too long to complete their community service work, although people might try to take advantage, if the work is done slowly then the criminals will be severely punished.

Everybody makes mistakes, while others don’t bother to make it right, some people want a second chance at life which means that people who have done wrong, will get another chance to right themselves and to be an active member to the society. Giving them something to do will also help them see the positives of life and become better citizens to the society as a whole. It will also give them a chance to right their wrongs. This can give them an improved life and can help them carry on with it. People that commit petty crimes such as stealing or drug dealing should not be locked up for good because they deserve a second chance at life again. That’s why community service is offered. Various programs are available such as SLAP, for Sheriff's Labor Assistance Program which help out local sheriffs in small towns all over (Worth, 1998). In Savannah, GA, Randall Moutrie was caught dealing drugs and was convicted to jail. He was given the option of doing community service which he did, and he said “It made me get better and stronger in my life” (Ruberti, 2010). This shows that community service does help someone figuring out what there is to life and how they can relive it. Another example is Berlynn Cottom who was a drug and alcohol addict. Being convicted, she was given the chance to right her wrongs and attend mental and physical rehab. In the process, she would have to complete hours of community service. After the intensive program she said that it had given her a new perspective on life and that she got more respect in the community. It also helped her realize that there is more to life than just doing drugs (Ruberti, 2010). Community service can be offered to non violent crime offenders because some don’t have the money to pay for the fines. Rather than being imprisoned for small crimes, they can become active members of society by helping out the community. This can motivate them to becoming better citizens and also to have a brighter future. Other offenders could also be motivated to show an interest to daily life. With having community service, they can find something that they want to do or keep up for the rest of their lives. It can keep them busy and also to become better role models to other offenders. With having completed the community service program, “offenders can look forward to a better lifestyle by reducing the number of repeat offenders who return to jail after being unable to adapt to life outside of jail”, said Moses Wright (Wright, n.d.). Jail time not only affects the criminals individually but also affects their families. As strange as it may sound, many of these criminals, when imprisoned have their children following their footsteps. This would help turn their lives around and look forward to an improved life with dignity and respect.

The prison system is overburdened with the number of inmates they take in, most of which are charged and sentenced to jail for non- violent crimes. Keeping these inmates leads to an increase in the cost of the governments, as they have to provide them with place, food and sometimes required medical attention. As mentioned in the BBC news magazine “With the prison population rising, along with the cost of keeping people locked up, ministers have indicated they want to see fewer people serving short jail terms” (McFarlane, 2010). Sentencing to community service not only provides an individual with work to do but also gives them an opportunity to pay back the community. According to an article in the Harvard Crimson, the government costs for maintaining a prisoner is about $20,000 each year, the money tax payers give to the government provides these inmates with all the facilities and shelter. Prisons are congested; cells that are designed to hold one prisoner now hold more than one (Joseph, 1986). California’s prison crises in August 2009 broke out a 11 hour riot, but causes where unknown, Barry Krisberg president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in California mentioned that overcrowding is the primary issue with hundreds of men moved into triple bunks which were used for gyms and cafeteria (Stateman, 2009). As stated by Florida Department of Corrections the daily cost of locking up an inmate is spent on protecting them and ensuring medical services, the residual is spent on garments, educating and feeding them (2009). Prison spaces are limited, they should be kept for criminals that are violent and a danger to society, with the population skyrocketing in these prisons the government cannot afford to build more cells particularly, due to the economic situation. Furthermore individuals convicted to non-violent offenses such as forgery, DUI, and robbery need not be sentenced to long jail times , there are alternatives; community service, house arrests and fines. The conditions in these cells are appalling, because of which most inmates suffer from ill health. Moreover there is a chance that individuals (inmates) will be affected psychologically and emotionally in an adverse manner. Professor Craig Haney of the University of California, Santa Cruz explains that ‘When prison environments become unduly painful, they also become harmful, and prisoners carry the effects or consequences of that harm back into the free world once they have been released. Thus, bad prisons are not only unpleasant or uncomfortable; they can be destructive as well’ (Haney, n.d). In order to reduce the crammed situation, judges should decrease the number of non-violent prison inmates and parolees they sentence to jail. Prisons don’t always reform prisoners. ‘If anything, inmates become better criminals in prison, learning the tricks of the trade from the pros’ (Joseph, 1986).

Society which is deteriorating with years and years passing by can benefit tremendously by the community services from these criminals. Community service will not only make them realise there mistake, but will also give them a chance to make it right by giving it back to society. This way government does not have to look for paid labour to do these community services when they can get it for free. Many non-profit organisations are always in the need of volunteers for their campaigns and community work. Government could use their services in renovating building, keeping society clean and construction work. For example
During 2008, criminals performed 48,484 hours of free labour at various nonprofit organizations and on county road litter pick-up details, according to statistics compiled by the district attorney’s office. The figure represents a 16.6 percent increase over the hours compiled in 2007(Hessler, 2009).
During 2008, prisoners, dressed in orange jumpsuits, spent a total of 4,354 hours picking up litter along state, county and township roads. On Route 422, inmates worked 558 hours, while they worked 240 hours along Route 100. Inmates put in 87 hours on Route 363, about 60 hours on Route 29, 487 hours on Route 476 and 135 hours on Route 113, according to county records (Hessler, 2009).
Governments waste millions of dollars and precious lifetime of these criminals by sending them to prison when they could be helping the society in many ways. Due to current recession it will also benefit the country’s economical status by decreasing the sentence of such criminals. Furthermore natural disasters like flood and earthquake leave devastating trails, help from these criminals could be taken in cleaning up and rebuilding the affected areas. Earthquake in Canterbury and flood in Cumbria are examples of such community services (TVNZ, 2010). These non-violent criminals when are exposed to the prison life become even more violent. In the long run it will benefit the society by reducing the number of violent crimes. Moreover community service for prisoner is no doubt a positive approach as it would help improve the living standard of society. As many of these crimes are minor so imprisonment would alienate them from society.

However many individuals who have been given community service order might take too long to complete the number of hours of work, showing up late or not show up at all to their session. This means that they are trying to take advantage of the system. For example, in Scotland criminals have taken over 2 years to complete 250 hours of community service work (STV Group plc, 2010). If the criminals are caught violating the rules of the system they could be charged with high fines and severe consequences such as house arrest or they will be imprisoned.
Giving community service sentences instead of imprisonment for minor non-violent crimes would be good for the society in the long run because the criminal will get a chance to undo their wrong and let them do something productive, it will reduce overcrowded prisons and will help the society improve without extra expenses. However the individual might violate the rules by taking too long to finish his quota of hours for community service work, if the criminal is found to be guilty of violating the rules he will be sent to the prison again or will be fined. Furthermore individuals convicted to minor non-violent offenses should not be imprisoned, there are alternatives such as community service or fines which are better than imprisonment and benefit the society more, this is why the governments should take the initiative to start giving out community service for minor non violent crimes rather than imprisoning the criminals.

Reference List
Notton, A. 2010, ‘Legal Non-Violent Minor Offences And The Consequences’, Available: [Accessed 1 December 2010]

An tSeirbhis Phromhaidh The Probation Service, n.d., ‘What is Community Service’, Available: [Accessed 21 November, 2010]

Florida Department of Corrections, 2009, ‘Statistics in Brief’, Available: [Accessed: 21 November 2010]

Haney, C. n.d., ‘Prison Overcrowding: Harmful Consequences and Dysfunctional Reactions’, Available: [Accessed 16 November 2010]

Hessler, C. 2009, ‘Prison time on road litter detail is paying off’, Available: [Accessed: 30 November 2010]

Irish Times, 2010, ‘Study finds criminals can succeed in turning their lives around’, Available: [Accessed 23 November 2010]

Joseph, M.H. 1986, ‘Overburdened Prisons’, Available: [Accessed 22 November 2010]
McFarlane, A. 2010, ‘Can community sentences replace jail?’ Available: [Accessed 19 November 2010]

Ruberti, M. 2010, ‘Second chance offered to former criminals, drug users’, Available: [Accessed 21 November 2010]

Stateman, A. 2009, ‘California's Prison Crisis: Be Very Afraid’, Available:,8599,1916427,00.html [Accessed 30 November 2010]

STV Group plc, 2010, ‘Community Service System is Failing says Labour’, Available: [Accessed 21 November 2010]

TVNZ, 2010, ‘Criminals help with quake clean up’, Available:
[Accessed 1 December 2010]

Worth, R. 1998, ‘Making Criminals Pay - service programs for convicted criminals’, Available: [Accessed 19 November 2010]

Wright, M. N.d. ‘Criminal Rehabilitation - Working Towards A Better Life For Inmates And Their Families’, Available: [Accessed 20 November 2010]…...

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