Community Service: What You Should Know

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

In a court of law, a judge can issue various sentences for a conviction, including jail time, probation and fines. On some occasions, the court may order community service as an alternative sentence. Here's a look at what that means and how it works.

What Is Community Service? When sentenced to community service, a convicted individual must complete a prescribed number of unpaid hours by a specific date. This volunteer work can include service that's related or unrelated to the offense. Judges will often order community service hours in addition to fines or jail time.

When Is It Used? Community service can be mandated for both nonviolent and violent offenses, and it's often used as an alternative punishment for juvenile offenders. In some cases, community service is ordered as a form of restorative justice -- an approach that aims to rehabilitate lawbreakers by encouraging them to make amends to victims and the community as a whole.

Finding Service Opportunities Community service hours are usually completed at a nonprofit or government agency, and the court or an assigned probation officer typically needs to approve the volunteer location. The court may have a preapproved list of organizations, or the sentencing may mandate a particular type of volunteering. Websites such as also list court-ordered volunteer opportunities around the country.

Related Responsibilities It's often left up to the convicted individual to find and schedule community service work that complies with the order, get it approved by the court or a parole officer and complete it within the required time frame. Those concerned with finishing the service on time may be able to request an extension through the court.


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