Community service is the obligation imposed by the court for an offender to work for the benefit of the community without payment at a workplace identified by the relevant authority.
We have already referred to the practice of introduction of community service in Armenian legislation and its implementation.
Regardless of the specifications of the legal regulations in different countries, community service shares the following common objectives:
- to reduce re-offending rates without isolating the individual from its family and friends and without causing the problem of reintegration of the offender into the community (society)
- to repair the harm done to the community
- to resolve the problem of prison overcrowding
- to save state financial and human resources.
This sanction is quite successfully used in USA, France, England, Sweden and other countries. The practice of some key international actors is presented below.
Community service introduced in the United States in 1966 in Alameda County as a penalty for traffic offences. Subsequently the practice was spread over the whole country and currently it is primarily used mainly as a supplementary sanction to minor offences and rarely as a main sanction.
Unlike US in Europe community service mainly has a punitive meaning and is imposed as a main sentence.
Community service as a penalty has been introduced in Criminal Code in 1971. First, it was used solely for juveniles as a main sentence. In the future community service was also implemented for adults as a complementary penalty.
Therefore, Swiss Criminal Code was the first in Europe introducing community service as a main sentence.
In Sweden community service is imposed in cases where the convict is given a suspended sentence. The number of community service hours is set from 40 to a maximum 200.
The court determines the length of community service depending on the severity of the offence, as well as determines the length of imprisonment, which can be imposed in case the offender maliciously violates the requirements of the community service order. The Probation Service approves the content and place of works. It also supervises the implementation of a community service order.
Community service as a penalty was adopted into German legislation in 1975 and was imposed for the non-payment of taxes.
In France an Act on unpaid work for the benefit of the community came into operation in 1984 and is imposed with the consent of the offender.
The duration of community service in France is determined from 40 to a maximum 240 hours. The community service cannot be imposed for a person who has previously served a prison sentence of four month or more.
According to the statistics, 60% of community services sentences are imposed for theft and concealing stolen goods (possession of stolen goods) and more than 75% of community service workers are single and unemployed males under 30 years.
After the application of the community service the number of offenders in imprisonment was decreased immediately from 90 000 to 80 000. In 1994 21 000 community service sentences were imposed by the courts in France.
Community service was introduced in Finland in 1991 on an experimental basis. Community service was imposed to offenders sentenced for a maximum eight months’ imprisonment primarily for drunken driving. Since 1994 the scope of this sanction has been extended.
Following the introduction of community service in three years the number of this sentence increased from 1.4% to 8%. Currently 10% of court’s sentences impose community service.
It is England that has the most experience in community service in England. Community service was introduced in England in 1972 on the advice of the Advisory Council on the Penal System.
In 1991 a new Justice Act, which regulated the use of public works, came into operation. The main principles of this document are:
- Community service must be seen as a real alternative for imprisonment that can also be imposed for more serious offences
- Community service must benefit the community
- Community service can be imposed from 40 to 240 hours, the public work must not take up more 21 hour per week days, (each day of work comprises a maximum 8 hours)
- the policy towards violations of requirement of the community sentence must be strict, consistent and predictable to uphold the confidence of the courts and the public
- following failure to appear at work for several ties, the offender must be brought before the court again
- the fact that previous community service order was breached is not a reason to reject the consideration of a person for a community service.
Modern tendencies of the administration of justice lead to an increase of the use of alternative sanctions and transition from punitive to restorative justice. Great Britain is one of the leaders in this sphere. Following the successful example of Great Britain, community service was introduced in the Netherlands in 1981 in an effort to reduce the use of imprisonment for minor offences. In the future the positive practice of these countries was used for legal regulations in different countries, though during implementation it has been changed and adapted to the local specificities.
Today possible approaches towards implementation of alternative sanctions are regulated by a number of international documents, including the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-Custodial Measures (Tokyo Rules). These Rules provide a set of basic and important principles to promote the use of non-custodial alternative measures.
There are also some other international documents: Economic and Social Council resolution No. 1998/23 and its annex the Kadoma Declaration on Community Service, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Recommendation R (92) 16 on the European Rules on Community Sanctions and Measures, the Council of Europe Recommendation No. R (2000) 22 on improving the implementation of the European Rules on community sanctions and measures, as well as the Council of Europe Recommendation on probation rules.