For the longest time, California, among many other states, handled juvenile offenders with the same approach they used on adults; by locking them up. Even now, some localities don’t hesitate to do so. But now more than ever, the California Juvenile Justice System has taken to adopting an ethos of opting for community service instead, bringing down the number of incarcerated teenagers.
Keeping in mind that most teenagers going to court are first or second offenders, it hardly seems fair to send them off to state prison without considering other options first. However, short of locking teenagers up, one of the most common alternatives to prison is mandatory community service. In this article, we’ll attempt to show you how community service can help keep you or your teen out of jail when encountering the Juvenile Justice System.
Defining community service
When someone breaks the law, he or she usually has to make good on the loss suffered by the victim. Restitution is reparations made directly to the victim by the offender. In most cases, restitution takes the form of monetary payments, but courts can also opt for services, especially in cases where the offender is unable to pay. The big question is whether, in the same sense, the community is ever truly a victim and whether community service rectifies the community losses. Theoretically, the community is often considered a secondary victim that suffers indirectly.
Just like restitution, community service is completed by the offender to give back to the community at large. Many probation rulings also come with prescribed community service hours. The services can range from activities like neighborhood clean-ups to volunteering in nursing homes. By partaking in community service, the juvenile justice system aims to meet the following goals:
- To hold the offenders accountable for harming the community
- Providing the community with human resource
- Help young offenders develop new skills
Why community service is better than jail
Community service is a form of punishment inherently meant to benefit the community harmed by the juvenile offender. There are several community service forms, and courts have broad discretion to decide what kind of community service to order. As long as the punishment protects the public’s interest and isn’t unduly harsh, judges are at liberty to pick from a vast pool of options. But even with this flexibility, there are still a few guidelines courts must adhere to when passing a judgment.
First, courts can order community service as a stand-alone punishment or as part of a probationary condition. This is especially the case for crimes like looting and vandalism. Second, it is a legal requirement that community service sentencings should benefit the community. Finally, there must be a connection between the crime and the service. Therefore, it isn’t uncommon to find judges distributing punishment that “fits the crime.” Many courts have struck down community service sentences because they failed to tie the crime to the service or the service was unduly harsh. For example, a judge can order a shoplifter who stole from an elderly couple’s establishment to volunteer in a nursing home.
What matters most is that the court believes the community will benefit from the community service because it serves to deter potential offenders and provides a practical form of restitution.
Call us today at Saros Law APC
Although California has made efforts to reduce incarceration among minor offenders, there’s still a chance that the court could send your teen to the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation.
Attorney Alison Saros is a mother of two young adults and is firmly against locking up juvenile offenders. If your teen is facing charges for an offense and you’re wondering whether community service is possible, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Attorney Alison Saros has over 25 years of experience maneuvering the justice system and helping minors pull through the worst cases. Call us now at (310) 341-3466 to talk about how we can keep your teenager out of jail.