|A Case for Court Ordered Community Service|
|Posted by Charles Esslinger on Feb 19th, 2013|
Eagle Point Park, in Clinton County, IA, is looking a little nicer these days thanks to some help from people in the county's court ordered community service program. Hundreds of people have taken part in the volunteer program, working to repot flowers, weed, and water the park. Volunteers have also helped to clean up city streets and buses for the Municipal Transit Administration. Thus far, the program has been a great success.
Community service allows those convicted of a crime to volunteer and pay fines as part of a probation or parole program. This is often offered instead of jail time to those convicted of minor or petty crimes. In Clinton County, court mandated volunteering usually involves work that isn't done by any county employee, and often times, is work that wouldn't otherwise get done. Last year alone, court ordered community service accounted for 31,568 hours of work.
Kirsten Waldorf, 24, is a typical participant of the program. Waldorf was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated last September. Instead of jail time, she was ordered to pay $1,500 in fines and sentenced to 30 hours of community service. After being let go from her job, Waldorf convinced the judge to allow her to complete an additional 100 hours of community service because she couldn't pay the fine. “If I couldn't do the community service I would probably be in a lot of trouble with the judge,” said Waldorf. “I'd probably get more money tacked onto my fine and maybe be in jail.”
Mike Wolf, an attorney in Clinton County, says that many find themselves in situations similar to Waldorf's. “A fine can be overwhelming when they don't have a job and can't pay it,” explained Wolf. “You create a situation where they can't complete what's been ordered by the court. You don't want to create that hopeless situation. Then the person gives up and says 'I can't do it.' ”
Clinton's Community Service Coordinator Tammy Johnson says that the program has really helped make the county a better place to live. There were a total of 597 people assigned to do community service last year, 556 of which were adults. That adds up to an awful lot of volunteer hours, though the amount does vary according to a person's sentence. In that regard, Jeff Rowson is a bit of an outlier in the program. Tammy Johnson said he was assigned more community service hours than anyone she had ever seen.
Rowson was given over 1,300 community service hours in 2010 as part of a deferred judgment for a misdemeanor. Considering the circumstances in this case, the harsh sentence was entirely appropriate. Rowson's misdemeanor, providing alcohol to a minor, was connected to the tragic death of teenager Jacob Kilburg a year earlier.
To his credit, Rowson has taken a serious approach to his community service. “Knowing that I had that many hours I had to complete, I was like 'really I'm just going to treat this like it's my second job,' ” Rowson said. “It's either I can make the best of it or I can make these days seem longer than they really are.”
Since he began his service work, Rowson has maintained a full time job and has stayed out of trouble. He claims the entire experience changed him. “I spent a lot of time thinking about the lessons I learned. Every day you have is a blessing. It opened up my eyes a lot.”
Keeping people like Kirsten Waldorf and Jeff Rowson out of jail not only allows them to rehabilitate themselves through community service, it saves the county money. Although Clinton County doesn't track the exact totals, it is estimated that it costs $50 per day to keep a convict in jail. If everyone of the 597 people assigned to participate in the community service program served one day in jail, it would cost the county an extra $30,000 in expenses. That doesn't even take into account the time and work that court mandated volunteering has put back into the community.
When it comes down to it, this isn't really about numbers. It's about human beings. Mike Wolf summed it up nicely – “Every person has value. This recognizes people's value and allows the court to be dignity affirming. We believe you can contribute to society.”
Clinton Herald - http://clintonherald.com/local/x2056616879/Community-service-program-leads-to-lessons-learned
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