Community service should not be punishment

Published 8:12 pm Sunday, June 10, 2018

If you are convicted of DUI in Georgia, you must be sentenced to perform community service.  Community service is also commonly ordered in other types of cases. Currently, it can also be useful in negotiations with prosecutors. By agreeing to perform community service, sometimes a person can avoid jail or having a criminal record. 

But, there is a fundamental question that comes to mind every time I see someone sentenced with community service as a condition of probation. 

Why should community service be a form of punishment?

Community service is part of a theory called rehabilitative justice. The goal of rehabilitative justice is noble in that punishment provisions should rehabilitate prisoners and probationers by making them better people. Thus, they will no longer commit crimes. 

Gov. Deal has been very successful in leading the effort to reform Georgia’s criminal justice system by taking some positive aspects of rehabilitative justice (like providing for accountability courts such as drug, DUI, mental health, and veterans courts) and asking the General Assembly to pass laws vastly improving justice. One of the last pieces of the criminal reform agenda should be removing power from courts to sentence defendants to involuntary service work.   

So, how does a sentence that involves community service make a negative impact on Georgia?  It sends a message to society that community work is unpleasant, should be avoided and is mainly performed by people who are “in trouble with the law.”

Additionally, by continuing to sentence people to perform community service a form of punishment, we discourage current probationers from volunteering in the future as they will remember that service work was associated with committing a crime.  Everyone has a civic responsibility in their community. 

The people of west Georgia have entrusted good, trustworthy and influential public servants to represent us in the General Assembly. I humbly ask each member of our delegation to consider discussing a bill with other House and Senate members that would prohibit community service being a part of a criminal sentence. 

Changing the law will not just remove the stigma associated with service work and put a higher value on it. People want to be associated with value.

It is also just the right thing to do.