Of course, community work programs bring with them their own set of risks. For example, if the guilty individual is posted to a locality or an institution with a history of discrimination or physical/sexual abuse, then there is a good likelihood that the community work enrollee will get into quarrels and altercations, if not give vent to more violent reactions. Moreover, the participant will have to fully commit himself/herself for the task assigned to him/her. Half-hearted efforts to serve the community will only result in making the individual vulnerable to commit further crimes and will ultimately defeat the restorative purpose. These are a set of drawbacks associated with the concept of community service as a remedial measure for social crimes (Mason, 1998).
There are human rights activists, who take a more compassionate view of the flawed behaviors of criminals. The implication here being that relatively un-oppressive punishments such as imposition of so many hours of community work is more legitimate when compared to harsher punishments. But, it should be borne in mind that
“The human rights movement is based on the need for a counter-ideology to combat the abuses and misuses of political authority by those who invoke as a justification for their activities, the need to subordinate the particular needs of the individuals to the general good. The stance of the rights workers in the long haul benefits a few persons in comparison to the safety and security of the entire society.” (Andrews & Bonta, 2003)
Hence, we need to gain a more nuanced understanding of the nature of civil liberties and how the rights of individuals square off against that of the community, before deciding on the right approach to punishing criminals.
Another area where community service holds an advantage over traditional measures of justice is its long-term effects on the guilty individual. Studies have documented how convicts, having completed their prison terms find it difficult to reintegrate into society, making them more vulnerable for repeating violent behavior, which landed them in prison in the first place. It also has to be remembered that any opportunity for social interaction in the prison environment can also be an opportunity for sexual experience. Correctional programs will not work without an atmosphere of camaraderie and a sense of belonging. Hence, the solution lies in balancing between these two necessities. Admonishments and physical restraints have obviously failed to improve the inmates’ wellbeing, as several studies indicate. Moreover, such ex-convicts are prone to indulge in deviant sexual behavior when they come out of their detention centers, making a strong case for holistic and accommodative punishments as community work (Andrews & Bonta, 2003).
The debate on the efficacy of conventional punitive measures of the criminal justice system, such as imprisonment and monetary penalty has a long history. But such measures do not take into account the fact that the reasons behind crimes comprise of a broad spectrum of causes, ranging from socio-economic factors, level of education, physical or emotional abuse and even genetics. So, designing a system that would factor-in these causes and attempt to remedy the roots of the malady has now become imperative. While alternative sentencing approaches like community service, or for that matter, even work release program, are not a panacea, they help mitigate the problem to an extent.
Andrews, DA & Bonta, J., The Psychology of Criminal Conduct, ISBN 1-58360-544-4, published in 2003
“Is torture ever justified? Terrorism and civil liberty.,(All democracies eschew torture, but some are ambivalent).” The Economist (US) 384.8547 (Sept 22, 2007): 72US.
Mason, W. A., Zimmerman, L., & Evans, W. (Oct 1998). Sexual and physical abuse among incarcerated youth: implications for sexual behavior, contraceptive use, and teenage pregnancy. Child Abuse and Neglect, 22, n10. p.987(9).
Zehr, H, Little Book of Restorative Justice, ISBN 1-56148-376-1, published in 2002