Joseph J. Colarusso, Attorney at Law
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How community service exacerbates the problem of court debt

Community service is an option that some Connecticut residents may have if they are not able to pay court fines and do not want to serve time in jail. At times, individuals are ordered by the court to perform community service. While it has proven beneficial for some individuals, it seems that there are some downsides to court-ordered community service.

A study that was recently published shows the negative impact that court-ordered community service is having on low-income communities of people of color who cannot pay their fines and have to either serve time in jail or work doing community service full time for three weeks. The study involved 5,000 individuals in low-income communities in Los Angeles over a one-year period.

The first thing that the report showed is that millions of hours of unprotected and unpaid labor are being extracted from individuals who are most likely to be unemployed and have unstable work situations. In the year that was studied, from 2013 to 2014, a total of 8 million hours were worked by individuals who performed community service, which is the equivalent of about 4,900 paid jobs. Around 3 million hours from that total were dedicated to government agencies. In at least a quarter of the cases studied, individuals were ordered by a judge to work 155 hours or more.

It seems that the dollar value of the fines that were imposed on people did not match the work, especially for a minor criminal case like a traffic violation. The average work order for a traffic ticket that had a $520 fee was 51 hours of work.

Individuals who are charged with a crime often consider the long-term consequences that come with having a criminal record. They may choose to speak with a criminal defense attorney to get legal advice. A lawyer may build a defense strategy that could help his or her client avoid a criminal conviction.

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