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Community service sentences may entrench poverty

Many people in Texas think that sentences of community service are more humane than other types of criminal punishment, including jail time or heavy fines. However, one study released by the UCLA Labor Center and School of Law says that community service can replicate some of the same problems caused by court fines and debt, especially for people in low-income communities and communities of color. The study examined 5,000 cases of people ordered to community service between 2013 and 2015 to work off the fines they would have received otherwise.

The study noted that community service sentences can build a reliance on the part of government agencies for the supply of labor obtained through criminal convictions. As a result, these agencies may hire fewer people to perform this work outside the system, further entrenching unemployment and poverty in the community. Specifically, researchers said that the county needed 8 million hours of community service, equaling 4,900 paid jobs. Agencies received 3 million hours from people sentenced to work off their fines, the equivalent of 1,800 paid jobs. They also criticized the effects of community service sentences on people's financial stability. Many sentences required weeks of full-time work. As a result, people were less likely to be able to work paid jobs or take on shifts.

Therefore, community service sentences could contribute to keeping people in poverty. The researchers also said that the sentences tended to devalue the labor of defendants. Given the amount of the fines they would have received, people would receive a relatively low hourly value for their work.

Any type of criminal conviction can lead to serious consequences and lost opportunities for housing, education and employment. People facing criminal charges can consult with a criminal defense attorney to challenge police allegations and aim to prevent a conviction.

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