Community service has long been a staple of sentencing in the U.S., and has long enjoyed a sunny, mostly uninterrogated, reputation as a more restorative and humane alternative to fines and fees or short-term jail. But two new reports—one from the Center for Court Innovation and one from the UCLA Labor Center—suggest many of the ways courts are actually using community service is undercutting its potential to act as a genuine alternative sentence.
The episode is in two acts. In Act One, an on-location snapshot of community service at the Center for Court Innovation. In Act Two, Joanna Weiss of the Fines and Fees Justice Center runs through some of the troubling recent findings, and outlines recommendations for making an alternative sentence work.