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According to government statistics, there are more than 85,000 people currently imprisoned across England and Wales.   However, as an alternative punishment to imprisonment, community service is not only far cheaper for the government and the tax payer, but data from the Ministry of Justice demonstrates that community service is 8% more effective at reducing reoffending than imprisonment. *(The official name has changed a number of times – you may also have heard of ‘community payback’ or ‘unpaid work in the community’, but most people still think of it as community service, so that is what we are calling it here).

When is community service used for sentencing?

A judge or magistrates will follow sentencing guidelines that set out criteria to help establish whether a matter is serious enough to deserve more than a fine or conditional discharge. If it is that serious, but not bad enough for prison, then the court will consider what sort of community order is most appropriate.  Some offenders need to address drink, drug or anger issues and may need to comply with certain activity requirements.  In more straightforward matters, the court will consider how much time the offender should be sentenced to carry out on community service.   The court must take into account how appropriate the sentence is, including whether a person has any physical or mental health conditions that will affect their ability to perform the work given.

Any crime that could result in prison can be punished by community service instead.   The types of crimes that often receive punishment with community service include:

  • Criminal damage
  • Fraud
  • Assault

What types of community service are there?

Sometimes referred to as community payback, community service is always unpaid and can include any of the following tasks:

  • Charity work
  • Removal of graffiti
  • Renovating derelict areas
  • Clearing wasteland
  • Decorating public places
  • Litter picking

Where does community service take place?

Community service usually takes place in an area local to where an offender lives.  This will be arranged and managed by a community payback supervisor.

How much community service is usually completed?

Offenders can be ordered to do from 40 to 300 hours of community service, depending on the seriousness of the crime committed.

If offenders are unemployed at the time, they will have to carry out 3 or 4 days of community service work each week.  Offenders who have a job have to schedule their community service outside of working hours, usually in the evenings or on the weekends, until their community service sentence has been completed.

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