Community Service Sentencing for Corporations

AuthorEmily M. Homer,George E. Higgins
Published date01 February 2021
Date01 February 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(1) 49 –65
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403420903379
Community Service
Sentencing for Corporations
Emily M. Homer1 and George E. Higgins1
This study examines if judges sentence criminal corporations that are more
blameworthy in the commission of crimes to community service penalties. This
blameworthiness consideration is drawn from the focal concerns framework. The
study uses data compiled by the U.S. Sentencing Commission from court documents
for the cases of 1125 corporations that were sentenced in federal criminal courts
nationwide between October 1, 2010, and September 30, 2017. Results showed
that corporations with higher base fines were significantly more likely to be
sentenced to terms of community service compared to those corporations with
base fines. Policy implications are discussed.
criminal sentencing, corporations, community service, focal concerns, blameworthiness
When determining the sentencing for corporations that have been convicted of crimi-
nal violations, federal judges have some discretion in assigning penalties. Although
normally thought of as a sentence for individuals, corporations can also be required to
complete terms of community service. Community service can be defined as unpaid
work done by an offender in a community setting (Federal Corrections and Supervision
Division, 2001). Chapter eight of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) mandated
by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC, 2018) outlines the rules that judges must
use when assigning penalties to corporations. Many of the sentencing options are
clearly outlined as to when and how they should be implemented; however, the USSG
are relatively quiet regarding the circumstances that community service would be
appropriate, leaving much discretion to the judges.
1University of Louisville, KY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Emily M. Homer, University of Louisville, Brigman Hall Room 101, Louisville, KY 40292, USA.
903379CJPXXX10.1177/0887403420903379Criminal Justice Policy ReviewHomer and Higgins
50 Criminal Justice Policy Review 32(1)
As a general rule of sentencing, those that are deemed to be more blameworthy in
the commission of a crime should be sentenced to more extensive or severe penalties,
potentially including community service. Increasing penalties for more blameworthy
parties is incorporated into the USSG, which indicate that those corporations have
committed more severe crimes should be sentenced to higher fines, including those
corporations that have management that are aware of or are permissive of the crime,
those that have had a previous criminal conviction, were on probation at the time of
the offense, or obstructed justice. In addition, the amount of restitution that a corpora-
tion is required to pay is intended to be equal to the amount of harm caused by the
crime, meaning that more harm results in more restitution (USSC, 2018). Research has
yet to examine if community sentence penalties are included as a part of sentencing for
corporations that are more blameworthy. For corporations, adding a community ser-
vice penalty as part of a sentence increases the extensiveness of the sentence because
it requires the corporation to complete more tasks. Most empirical literature examin-
ing community service sentences focuses on individuals, and even that research is
scarce. The current research examines if corporations that are considered more blame-
worthy in the commission of their crimes are sentenced to community service sen-
tences more often than those that are considered less blameworthy, using pooled
cross-sectional data from the nationwide federal criminal courts between October 1,
2010, and September 30, 2017.
Literature Review
In the United States, community service grew as an alternative to a financial penalty
for those convicted of minor misdemeanors as a form of punishment consistent with a
relatively minor offense (Bouffard & Muftic, 2006; Carter et al., 1987; Tonry, 1999).
It can be difficult to gauge the severity of community service sentences (Petersilia &
Deschenes, 1994), but, for individuals, community service is often thought of as “get-
ting off easy” or “a slap on the wrist” when it is used instead of a fine or prison sen-
tence. Among inmates, community service is often seen as a “relatively easy” sentence
(Petersilia & Deschenes, 1994) that is not very punitive (Wood & Grasmick, 1999;
Wood & May, 2003).
Community service penalties for corporations may be viewed differently in terms
of severity. Fines may not be a deterrent for corporations, especially large ones,
because their profits outweigh the costs of monetary sanctions (Wong, 2000). In addi-
tion, there is evidence that many corporate fines are not fully paid because the govern-
ment does not follow through on collecting them (Ross & Pritikin, 2011). Some
corporations consider breaking the law to be the cost of doing business and also the
best way to maximize profit, electing instead to pay the penalties when caught for law
violations (Hodas, 1995; Stucke, 2014). A penalty like community service, which is
more extensive than a fine because of the resources required to complete the sentence,
could be considered a more severe or complex penalty.
Community service sentences for corporations were implemented in 1991 with the
passage of the USSG. According to the USSG, the first general principle of a

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