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Study says community service is ordered unfairly

A study conducted in California indicates that community service as part of criminal punishment disproportionately impacts low-income people of color who are unable to pay fines. They are often forced to choose between jail time or performing work without compensation. The principle behind community service for those convicted of crimes is that it's an alternative to serving jail time and allows an offender to garner goodwill in their community. However, the study says community service work is likely to exacerbate or mimic the problems of a debt to the court.

The study, which was conducted by the UCLA Labor Center and School of Law, involved data from 5,000 people who were ordered to work off court-ordered fines during 2013 and 2014. Among the findings was that the amount of community service work ordered was not in line with the corresponding fines owed. For example, the median requirement for a traffic ticket was to perform 51 hours of community service to pay off a fine of $520.

For people who are already struggling to earn enough money, community service requirements may be difficult to complete. The work hours are also handed out disproportionately to people of color. In traffic court, 81% of those who were ordered to perform work hours were Latino, 8% were black and 9% were white. The study suggested alternatives to community service, like basing fines on level of income or reducing prosecution for nonserious infractions.

A California resident who has been charged with a crime might want to schedule a consultation with a lawyer. An attorney who practices criminal defense law might be able to help by examining the facts of the case and looking for weaknesses in the prosecution narrative. Legal counsel could argue against the admissibility of certain evidence in some cases or negotiate a plea bargain with prosecutors.

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