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Chapter 3: Community Service (Probation and Supervised Release Conditions)

A. Statutory Authority

Under 18 U.S.C. § 3563(b)(12), the court may provide that the defendant “work in community service as directed by the court.”

B. Sample Condition Language

You must complete ___ hours of community service within ___ months. The probation officer will supervise the participation in the program by approving the program (agency, location, frequency of participation, etc.). You must provide written verification of completed hours to the probation officer.

You must be employed and complete community service for a combination of 30 hours per week. The probation officer will supervise the participation in the community service program by approving the program (agency, location, frequency of participation, etc.).  You must provide written verification of completed community service hours to the probation officer.

C. Purpose

  1. This condition serves the statutory sentencing purposes of public protection and rehabilitation. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(C) and (D).
  2. This condition enables the probation officer to satisfy the statutory requirements to keep informed as to the conduct and condition of the defendant and aid the defendant and bring about improvements in his or her conduct and condition. 18 U.S.C. §§ 3603(2)-(3).
  3. Community service is a versatile condition that can serve multiple purposes. It can, for example, serve as the publicly discernible penalty in probation cases or as a negative consequence for noncompliance with conditions of supervision, as a controlling strategy that requires defendants to be productively occupied, or as a correctional strategy that provides a way for defendants to acquire job readiness skills and job experience or broaden their network of associates in a more productive direction. In addition to the specific sentencing purpose to be served, the desired by-product of community service is always to benefit the community.
  4. Probation officers should strive to have all defendants productively occupied throughout the year, and no defendants should be permitted to be idle for a prolonged period unless excused due to disability or earned retirement. Probation officers should consider requesting a period of community service for those defendants who are not productively occupied.

D. Method of Implementation

  1. Community service placements are to be purposeful, realistic, appropriate, reliable, and designed to benefit the community. Defendants are not compensated for their community service. Probation officers are always to disclose the defendant’s criminal history so that the potential placement agency may make an informed decision to accept a placement.
  2. Defendants should be required to complete their community service obligation promptly unless there is a reasonable basis to delay the placement. For example, initiation of community service may be delayed to allow employed defendants to complete an imposed term of home confinement, to allow for intensive corrective treatment, to stabilize a drug-abusing defendant, or to allow the defendant to meet short-term extraordinary personal or family responsibilities. If an extensive delay is contemplated, the probation officer should either request that the special condition be removed or notify the court of the anticipated delay in implementation.
  3. Factors to be considered in making placements include the sentencing objective(s) of the court; the characteristics, skills, and abilities of the defendant; the needs of the community; third-party risk (see: Chapter 2, Section XII); and logistical considerations, such as the availability of transportation and the time necessary to complete the required hours vis-à-vis the defendant’s other employment, family, and financial responsibilities.
  4. The community service site selected should provide non-denominational services to the community. For example, a defendant should not receive community service credit for serving as a deacon in his or her church; however, the defendant may perform community service at a church soup kitchen open to all members of the community.
  5. The site selected should also have a reliable manager who is willing to work with the probation officer to provide accurate information regarding the defendant’s attendance and participation.
  6. Compliance with community service hours may be verified by on-site monitoring, contacting the service agency, and/or reviewing documentation provided by the service agency. The degree of personal or on-site contact with the service agency will depend on the degree and nature of the risk presented by the defendant and the extent to which the probation office has developed an ongoing relationship with the service agency.
  7. For defendants who qualify for low-risk supervision standards under Judicial Conference policy (see: Chapter 1, Section II(C)(1)), probation officers may rely exclusively on documentation review for monitoring the community service, though increased verification (written, telephonic, or personal) may be required in appropriate cases (e.g., insufficient documentation). Probation officers should direct these defendants (who otherwise have no supervision issues) to complete their community service as quickly as possible without compromising other prosocial activities (e.g., employment).