Community Service is a therapeutic-educational program for youth offenders treated by the Youth Probation Service. The youth are referred to community service to repair the damage caused to society by their offense. Since 2011, the Youth Probation Service has been outsourcing the program to a company, by tender. The company employs community service coordinators who are responsible for placing the youth at various service sites – public, governmental, municipal or non-profits – and for monitoring their work. At these sites, the participants perform such work as maintenance, gardening, instruction, preparing food packages and office work.
After six years of outsourcing the program and towards the end of the current tender in 2020, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services asked the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute to evaluate the Community Service Program to examine its modes of operation and its contribution to participants.
The study had two main goals:
- To provide the Youth Probation Service and MOLSA with information on how the program was implemented within the organization and as an intervention with the participants
- To learn about the program’s benefit to the participants
The study employed both quantitative and qualitative research methods, and was based on retrospective reports by and about the participants, at the end of their community service. The study population consisted of subjects referred to the program by court order, and who finished their community service between the end of November 2019 and March 2020 or failed to complete the hours required of them. The quantitative findings were based on 208 questionnaires completed by the participants’ probation officers, on 50 self-report questionnaires filled out by the participants, and on administrative data received from the Youth Probation Service. The qualitative data were based on 15 semi-structured interviews with senior officials of the Youth Probation Service, probation officers, the management of the operating company, community service coordinators, and six participants who had completed the program.
Duration of community service. The number of community work hours sentenced by the court ranged from 20 to 400 (84 hours on average). The participants carried out these hours over one month to 2.5 years (6.2 months on average). Among participants who were sentenced to a large number of hours, a higher percentage did not complete the Community Service Program.
Preparation for community service and job placement. Some 90% of the participants attended the preparation for community work offered by probation officers or community service coordinators. Yet 37% did not attend their first scheduled job-placement meeting or start working at the scheduled time. In 93% of the cases, the participant was offered more than one option for placement, and in 88% of the cases the placement site was within a half-hour walk or bus ride from the participants’ homes. It is the position of the probation service that, whenever possible, the participants should be placed at a job that will give them an opportunity to understand the damage they caused and to repair it. However, according to the probation officers, the type of community work assigned to the participants was consistent with the nature of the offence in only 40% of the cases. The coordinators and probation officers agreed that the participants’ work at social non-profits alongside volunteers was especially beneficial to the rehabilitation process, yet the most common placement jobs were community centers rather than social nonprofit organizations.
The participants received only partial support. In many cases, there was no regular weekly contact between the coordinators and the participants as required. Forty-two percent of the participants were not visited by their coordinators at their job sites, as required. In the case of 37% of the participants, the coordinators did not discuss the participant’s performance in the program with his probation officer. For 28% of the participants, the coordinators did not report to the probation officers regularly. In most cases, the probation officers were involved only when a problem arose with a participant’s functioning.
Main outcomes of community service, as evaluated by the probation officers:
- 77% of the participants regarded the community service as correcting the wrong they had done society
- 48% of the participants felt that they had contributed to the community
- 84% acquired soft work skills
A statistically significant correlation was found between the quality of the service provided to the participants by the community service coordinator (as perceived by the probation officer) and each of the main outcomes. In addition, in cases where the type of community service was relevant to the type of offence, the participants were more likely to perceive the community service as repairing the damage they had caused, to feel that they contributed to society, and to acquire soft work skills.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The program succeeds in achieving its goals on most of its outcome measures. However, in many cases, the potential for rehabilitation is not sufficiently realized: The coordinators are not sufficiently involved in the process that the participants go through, nor is there adequate contact between the coordinators and the probation officers or between the latter and the participants during the community service. There is a need for greater continuity and coordination of care, including the exchange of information between the probation officers and the community service coordinators, for prioritizing job placements of a social nature, and for greater involvement of the Youth Probation Service in the participant’s community service process. Before a participant enters the program, it is recommended that he and the probation officer choose two goals as his personal focus, to be conveyed to the community service coordinator and borne in mind through all the stages of treatment.