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Being charged with a crime is a daunting experience, and many people in Missouri count community service hours as an acceptable compromise over fines and jail time. A recently-published university study, however, found that community service hours disproportionately affect people of color and low-income communities. The report looked at data from 5,000 people in Los Angeles County who were ordered to perform community service work between the years 2013 and 2014.

Those 5,000 people were collectively ordered to perform 8 million community service work hours. Three million hours were performed for government agencies, amounting to the labor of 1,800 jobs that would otherwise have been paid. The study was completed by the Labor Center and School of Law at UCLA. In at least one-quarter of the cases studied, the person convicted was required to work for 155 hours or more.

Traffic court infractions, which are typically minor, resulted in a disproportionate level of community service orders levied upon people of color. Specifically, 89% fell into that category. The median amount of work required because of a traffic ticket was 51 hours, this to cover a fine of $520. According to researchers, the community service dynamic results in millions of hours of unprotected, unpaid labor by a population at high risk for work instability and unemployment.

A Missouri resident who has been charged with a crime might want to meet with a lawyer. A defense lawyer could help by negotiating a plea bargain with prosecutors or challenging the prosecution’s statement of facts. A lawyer might also file a motion to keep certain evidence or argue on the client’s behalf during courtroom proceedings.