Community service refers to service that a person performs for the benefit of his or her local community. Community service can refer to projects that members of certain youth organizations (such as the Boy Scouts) and some high school students perform. It also refers to an alternative sentencing technique in a justice system . And at times groups of people will commit to perform service to the community as a gesture to the larger community.
As an Alternative Sentencing Technique
This form of Community Service is used when convicted individuals are required to perform charitable services either entirely or partly in lieu of other penalties.
For instance, a fine may be reduced in exchange for a perpetrator performing community service. In some cases, the subject may be able to choose their community service, which then must be documented by credible agencies, or they may be ordered by the judge to perform certain services or work for certain agencies.
Sometimes the community service is specifically targeted to the subject's transgression. Examples of this may range from sentencing a litterer to pick up litter along the highway, to a drunk driver being required to appear before school groups to explain why drunk driving is a crime and an ethical breach.
Community service sometimes is targeted specifically to provide payback to the victims of crime. For instance, someone who vandalizes park equipment may be required to repair that equipment and more.
The philosophy behind community service is at least partially that providing services that benefit society is a more constructive way to punish perpetrators, and that it is a way to try to introduce the idea of ethical action into the value system of the perpetrator.
Community service is only one of a variety of alternative sentencing techniques designed to be more effective at reforming perpetrators, to reduce recidivism, to benefit society, and to reduce the overall cost to society of sentencing criminals. Other alternatives include home-based incarceration, targeted payback of funds to victims, and drug addiction treatment rather than imprisonment.
For High School Students and Members of Youth Organizations
In this case, the type of service performed is at times similar to that performed for people convicted of crimes. It can also entail other types of service. For example, a Boy Scout may undertake improvement projects - such as repairing a structure.
When this form of Community Service is used, it is often a requirement of a youth organization - the Scouting organization would require it in order for a Scout to advance to the next rank. For high school students, it is often a requirement for a student to advance to the next grade level or graduate from high school to perform a certain number of hours of service.
In Other Cases
There are cases where a group of people may voluntarily commit to giving a certain amount of service. The most common example is where a group of people will "adopt" a portion of a highway. These groups will then donate blocks of time where they will clean up litter from the sides of the highway. An "adopt a highway sign" is placed in the area, with the name of the group that has adopted the highway. Often times, churches, college student groups, or groups of employees from local companies are found doing this sort of work.
These groups will also donate other sorts of community service, such as working at a community meal site, or working with seriously ill people.