If you have been found guilty of a criminal offence, the courts will sentence you. Court sentences in NSW vary according to the nature and severity of the offence, and they include custodial prison sentences, home detention, good behaviour bonds, fines and community service.
What is a community service order?
Community service is where offenders are required to perform certain tasks for the benefit of the community as the penalty for being found guilty of an offence. These tasks will depend on the individual, and what programs are available in their community, but can include graffiti removal, environmental projects and helping care for the sick or elderly.
If you are sentenced to a community service order, you will be given a number of hours (up to 500) that you will be required to undertake. Community service orders are only given to eligible offenders.
What are the eligibility criteria?
A community service order will usually be given for minor offences rather than serious ones, and only in cases where the offender is not believed to pose any risk to the immediate community if they are allowed to participate.
If you have been found guilty of an offence that requires a sentence of imprisonment, you may be offered the opportunity to do community service as an alternative as long as you are considered to be a suitable person, and it is appropriate to the nature of the offence that you serve your sentence doing community service.
You will not be allowed to perform more than eight hours of community service work in one day, and under the terms of your community service order, you will be required to perform the work you are given to a required standard as well as maintain an acceptable standard of behaviour and presentation while working.
Whether or not you are granted a community service order is largely dependant on the availability of programs in your local community.
What happens if I disobey my community service order?
If you breach the terms of your community service order, you could be liable for further penalties. As a result of breaching your community service order, you may have the community service order revoked, and be given another sentence which may be a custodial sentence if that is appropriate for your circumstances.
What are the benefits of doing community service?
Community service has a number of benefits for the offender. The main benefit is that it allows you to serve out your sentence without having to spend time in custody. Your behaviour will be restricted to a certain extent while you are under a community service order, but you will usually still be allowed to live at home and have contact with your family.
In terms of the overall benefits to the community from sentencing offenders to community service, a recent study from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has shown that community service can have a positive impact on reducing overall reoffending. The study compared the reoffending rate of offenders who were sentenced to community service with those who were sentenced to a good behaviour bond. The results showed a reoffending rate of 17.3% for offenders given a community service order, compared with 19.8% for those given a good behaviour bond.