If you are convicted of DUI in Georgia, you must be sentenced to perform community service. Community service is also commonly ordered in other types of cases. Currently, it can also be useful in negotiations with prosecutors. By agreeing to perform community service, sometimes a person can avoid jail or having a criminal record.
But, there is a fundamental question that comes to mind every time I see someone sentenced with community service as a condition of probation.
Why should community service be a form of punishment?
Community service is part of a theory called rehabilitative justice. The goal of rehabilitative justice is noble in that punishment provisions should rehabilitate prisoners and probationers by making them better people. Thus, they will no longer commit crimes.
Governor Deal has been very successful in leading the effort to reform Georgia’s criminal justice system by taking some positive aspects of rehabilitative justice (like providing for accountability courts such as drug, DUI, mental health, and veterans courts) and asking the General Assembly
to pass laws vastly improving justice. One of the last pieces of the criminal reform agenda should be removing power from courts to sentence defendants to involuntary service work.
So, how does a sentence that involves community service make a negative impact on Georgia?
It sends a message to society that community work is unpleasant, should be avoided, and is mainly performed by people who are “in trouble with the law.”
Additionally, by continuing to sentence people to perform community service a form of punishment, we discourage current probationers from volunteering in the future as they will
remember that service work was associated with committing a crime.
Everyone has a civic responsibility in their community. Millions of Americans and thousands of west Georgians work in soup kitchens, volunteer to serve charities, and give their money to
community-based organizations. West Georgia is proudly known for having a large number of community volunteers.
There are many reasons why we want to serve our community. Some of the reasons include
having a sense of purpose, duty, and happiness. By volunteering in the community, you can also
spend time with friends, choose an activity you are passionate about, and know that you are doing God’s work.
Interestingly, even though the practice of community service as punishment has become widespread, volunteerism rates have not changed. It seems that people, in general, are hardwired to be meaningful members of the community.
We should honor all those who put in the hours to make the area we live in a better place.
The best way to do that is to change criminal law so that service no longer has any stigma. There are many other ways for those who have violated a criminal statute to pay their debt to society.
For instance, currently a person who is convicted of DUI for the first time in their life must perform at least 40 hours of community service. Instead, why not require 40 hours of education on the dangers of driving while intoxicated or 40 hours of attending victim impact panels?
Victim impact panels would be the most appropriate substitute for community service in this example because the panels were designed to help people, who were convicted of driving under the influence, realize the impact their decisions have on the lives of those around them. They provide a glimpse into the lives of those affected by DUI accidents, the effects on the family and friends, and the lasting future effects victims live with every day.
In other types of cases, there are plenty of special conditions of probation that could easily substitute for community service.
The people of west Georgia have entrusted good, trustworthy, and influential public servants to represent us in the General Assembly. I humbly ask each member of our delegation to consider discussing a bill with other House and Senate members that would prohibit community service
being a part of a criminal sentence.
Changing the law will not just remove the stigma associated with service work and put a higher value on it. People want to be associated with value.
It is also just the right thing to do. Jason W. Swindle, Sr.