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The downsides of community service sentencing

For many people in Maryland, community service sentencing appears to reflect a more humane approach to criminal justice than levying heavy fines or assigning jail time. However, the UCLA Labor Center and School of Law carried out a study that takes issue with that conclusion. It argues that the extensive use of community service exacerbates poverty and unemployment, especially in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, where most defendants sentenced to community service live. The school argues that not only may defendants be blocked from pursuing employment themselves, but potential paid jobs are being replaced by free labor obtained through the sentencing process.

The researchers looked at 5,000 people who were mandated to perform community service instead of paying a fine in Los Angeles County between 2013 and 2014. During that period, the county needed 8 million hours of labor, which is equal to the work of 4,900 paid employees. At the same time, government agencies received 3 million hours of free labor from people sentenced to community service. This work accounted for the equivalent of 1,800 paid jobs. As a result, affected communities have less access to jobs that are necessary for the area, and the use of these sentences may be encouraged for the financial savings they provide.

In addition, the study argued that defendants sentenced to community service often deal with similar problems as those required to pay fines. Since people are often sentenced to perform weeks of full-time, free labor, they are not available to work other jobs or pursue employment. They may lose out on much-needed jobs and income, especially with shift work that requires flexible hours.

A criminal conviction or sentence can have serious consequences for people's future employment options. A criminal defense attorney may help individuals who are accused of criminal charges challenge police allegations and work to avoid a conviction.

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