community service

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Community service is unpaid work that benefits the community. A judge can often sentence a convicted defendant to community service as an alternative to a jail sentence.  

Some common uses of the term “community service” in a legal sense include:

  • In the context of an alternative sentence, as mentioned under 18 U.S.C. § 3563(b)(12), the court may order that the defendant “work in the community service as directed by the court.” Court ordered community service is often ordered along with some other form of alternative sentence such as probation, suspended sentences, and fines. Judges have discretion in ordering community service and people with little or no criminal history and non-violent offenders are usually selected for court ordered community service. 
  • In the context of education, as defined in 20 U.S.C. Section 1074c-4, community service means “services, including direct service, planning, and applied research which are identified by an institution of higher education, through formal or informal consultation with local nonprofit, governmental and community-based organizations, and which
    1. are designed to improve the quality of life for community residents, particularly low-income individuals, or to solve particular problems related to the needs of such residents, including but not limited to, such fields as health care, child care, education, literacy training, welfare, social services, public safety, crime prevention and control, transportation, recreation, housing and neighborhood improvement, rural development, and community improvement; and
    2. provide participating students with work-learning opportunities related to their educational or vocational programs or goals.”

[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]