From its introduction in 1973 the role of community service (now community punishment) has been ambiguous yet increasingly popular. Its chameleon-like ability to adapt its aims and objectives to fit almost every traditional justification of punishment has made it as versatile as the fine – indeed, it has been described as a ‘fine on time’. But the incongruity of using unpaid supervised work schemes as a form of punishment at times of high unemployment in the community as a whole (as was the case in England and Wales in the first two decades of its existence) was never seriously questioned. Community service
raised fundamental questions about our perceptions of both ‘community’ and ‘service’ – leading ultimately to its name change. In the first edition of this book, this chapter was devoted entirely to an examination of what had become, it was argued, the ‘complacent face of punishment in the community’. Since then, community service has taken on a new identity as community punishment, and its role in the criminal justice system has become less ambiguous, though some of the core debates remain. In this edition, we have chosen to include in this chapter discussion of electronic monitoring and curfew orders, for reasons which may require some early explanation. The introduction of electronic monitoring in the late 1980s could be viewed as the other major penal innovation of the late twentieth century. Unlike community service, its appeal was not immediate and it was over a decade before it became established as a viable penal disposal in England and Wales; even now, its use is far more familiar as an adjunct to prison than as an alternative to it. Nevertheless, electronic monitoring, like community service/punishment, is a punishment of the body, and, as such, raises questions about the relationship between the legitimate demands of punishment and the limits that should be placed on punishment. Von Hirsch has asked the question ‘What is the acceptable penal content of non-custodial sentences?’ (1998: 195) and cautions against the fallacy that ‘anything is better than prison’. By this he means the misguided belief that offenders are willing to put up with any deprivation, humiliation or imposition, provided it stops short of imprisonment and that we need not, therefore, concern ourselves overly with ethical constraints:
Punishments should be of the kind that can be endured with selfpossession by persons of reasonable fortitude. These individuals should be able to undergo the penalty (unpleasant as it inevitably is) with dignity, protesting their innocence if they feel they are innocent or acknowledging their guilt if they feel guilty – but acknowledging it as a person, not as a slave, would do. A person can endure deprivation of various goods and liberties with dignity, but it is hard to be dignified while having to carry out rituals of self-abasement, whether the lockstep, the stocks, or newer rituals.