IS COMMUNITY SERVICE A BETTER ALTERNATIVE TO IMPRISONMENT FOR PETTY CRIMES?
Delivered at Second Leg, Hall Category, Jaw War 2017
On May 15, 2017 as reported by pulse.com.ng, an unidentified petty thief was caught attempting to steal from one of the rooms in Kenneth Mellanby hall. As soon as he was caught, he was stripped to his underwear and beaten until his head began to bleed. But for the efforts of the hall executives and security operatives, he would have been mobbed to death.
Judges, within minutes when this criminal was caught, citizens in a learned environment like the University of Ibadan did that much and would have done worse had the security operatives not intervened. Today, my opponents here suggest that this petty criminal and others like him be released back into society without regard for the safety of society or the criminals themselves all in the name of community service.
I stand before you today to say community service is not a better alternative to imprisonment for petty crimes.
Petty crimes according to the legal dictionary are offences lower than felonies and generally those punishable by fine, penalty, or imprisonment. Crimes such as battery, drunk driving without injury to others, public nuisance, traffic violations etc and according to the English Law dictionary, community service is an unpaid work intended to be of social use that an offender is required to do instead of going to prison.
In an article titled the purpose of imprisonment published by The Gleaner, a Jamaican newspaper on April 1, 2013. Deterrence was listed as one of the reasons why criminals are imprisoned. A convicted offender will not repeat the crime because the punishment taught him the consequences of offending and also serves as a caution to others against committing a similar crime. However, when some like my opponents suggest that some petty criminals because of the petite nature of their petty crimes be pitied and given petty sentences of petty service to the community, we take a petty step forward and two giant strides backwards. This is because the intent to commit will be strengthened and a man can decide to drink and drive posing a threat to other road users or choose to disturb public peace while saying to himself: “after all, if peradventure I am caught, I won’t be jailed, I will only spend a few days working for free. This way community service would have failed as a deterrent to criminals.
Secondly, one thing my opponents have failed to realize is the stigma created if criminals are allowed to engage in community service. The stigma is in what this idea does to service itself. It broadcasts community service as unpleasant, a thing for criminals and a no go area for well-meaning citizens. Yet, according to Eric Liu, a one-time policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, tens of millions of Americans clean up parks, scrub graffiti voluntarily because it gives them purpose and happiness and in some schools students earn honorific “service cords” award if they’ve completed 300 hours of service. This begs the question of why community service should ever even be a form of punishment. It is rather unfortunate that what my opponents suppose is a better alternative is no alternative at all.
Furthermore, according to David Anderson, an expert on criminal justice. As a result of judicial discretion, community service becomes a tool for social inequality. What do I mean? For the same crime, judges have been discovered to give extremely varying hours of community service. And even worse, for the same crime, while a rich man may be required to perform community service, his poor neighbour is sent to donate blood to prison mosquitoes. Can we then see that not only is community service for criminals, not a core option, it in fact encourages corruption in the judiciary?
My opponents may come here to say that community service helps the government reduce costs and overcrowding in prison. However, I ask, what would be the logical course of action of a doctor in the case of an Ebola outbreak? He isolates the patient so as to protect the masses because if he doesn’t, it’ll spread.it is better to put one individual in one corner than an entire society in a tough corner. In the same way, if criminals are not isolated, Crime rates will rise and death tolls will increase because “freedom for the wolves often means death to the lambs.
My opponents may also say that petty criminals should not be sentenced to the same prison that houses notorious and hardened criminals. True, this is exactly why there are minimum security prisons and maximum security prisons. Maximum security prisons are for notorious criminals and minimum prisons were designed especially for petty criminals.
In conclusion, if community service substitutes as imprisonment for petty crimes, it will be a disaster. How would public protection be guaranteed when these petty criminals now roam the streets freely? This debate is not about service to the community. It is about the safety of the community. And just as you cannot keep your home safe with armed robbers as gatemen, you do not keep society safe by asking criminals for help.