Community service was introduced in Europe in the late 70s beginning of 80s to fulfill a multiple role: to provide more alternatives to imprisonment, to punish the offenders (retribution), to restore the community for the harm done and to rehabilitate offenders by bringing them closer to values of work and structured routines. As illustrated in many evaluation papers (Boone, 2010; McIvor, 2010 etc.), the diversionary capacity of unpaid work was evidenced. However, the rehabilitation vocation of it still remains to be demonstrated. The main reason for this is that, due to a huge pressure from the caseload, probation services focused more on the retribution and restitution side of the sanction and ignored the rehabilitation dimension. Some steps towards this end were made in some jurisdictions. In UK, for instance, 10% of the number of community service hours may be spent on rehabilitation activities. In Finland, programs for addiction or other life improvement programs can support the community service. Furthermore, the lived experience of community service in itself has a rehabilitation component. McIvor (1992) was the first one who demonstrated that the quality of the offender’s experience on community service placements is strongly linked to the compliance and reoffending. She argued that reconviction rates were lower for offenders on community service who believed their work was worthwhile, they had more opportunities to be in contact with the beneficiaries, developed more new skills and felt that they brought something back to the community. These observations were confirmed later in the desistance literature (see Maruna, 2001). Rex and Gelsthorpe (2002) and later McCulloch (2010) suggested that offenders on community service tent to have lower reconviction rates if they perceive the sanction and fair and give them opportunities to develop new insights into other people and themselves. As it can be noted, community service has one of the most powerful rehabilitative capacities as long as it is organized and implemented in such a way that makes sense to the offenders. This simple idea is suggested also in different Council of Europe recommendations such as:
Recommendation CM/Rec (2017)3 on the European Rules on Community sanctions and measures.
Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)1 on the European Probation Rules
Moreover, the idea is further adapted to work for juvenile and young offenders in the Recommendation CM/Rec(2008)11 on the European Rules for juvenile offenders subject to sanctions or measures.
Bearing in mind this normative and epistemological context, we could conclude that the need that this project will cover is for an evidence-based and children friendly system for regulating and implementing community service in Europe. As mentioned above, currently the implementation is mostly led by the retribution of reparation rhetoric and less by the rehabilitation narrative.
To respond to this need, this project will aim at developing a set of policy and practice related recommendations for an effective and rehabilitative community service in Europe. The direct beneficiaries of the project are the correctional services, local authorities and NGOs which implement community service in their premises. The indirect target group consists of children and youth who carry this sanction/measure as a consequence of a judicial decision. The major benefit of conducting this project in a transnational fashion is that by doing so the project will build on the existing good practices, develop them, evaluate them in different cultural and judicial contexts and extrapolate them at the European level. Practices such as the ones implemented in Finland (e.g. integrating treatment programs into the community service plan) or in Romania (e.g. mixing community service with ecology) could be discussed and adapted in other parts of Europe providing young offenders with more meaningful experiences and therefore support their desistance from crime.
In conclusion or as an epilog, the following can be cited: Community-based sanctions used as alternatives to incarceration are a good investment in public safety. Compared with incarceration, they do not result in higher rates of criminal behavior and, thus, public harm; in fact, they were clearly associated with lower recidivism rates for matched groups of offenders.
(Source: The Effectiveness of Community Based Sanctions in Reducing Recidivism, the Oregon Department of Corrections, 2002)