Early last week I joined my parents for a walk to the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens. They were due to meet with friends and I was going to keep them company until their breakfast began. As we were waiting outside the cafe, a golf cart drove by and I decided to hop on the back.
The driver and passenger turned around and we had the equivalent of the following conversation in Hebrew.
Driver : Nu? Yeah?
Ayo: Yeah! Let’s go.
Driver: Go to where? Get off the cart.
Passenger: C’mon, let her stay. We’ll give her a tour.
Driver: Okay, but at least move to the front.
I was whisked inside the gardens (free of charge), introduced to the staff, shown the grounds and I even received a private tour of the Bonsai winter palace and the tropical house. When I asked the driver and passenger how they decided to work there, one remarked “we got into trouble and working here is our punishment”.
I thought that they were joking, but they were dead serious! The passenger was doing his last day of community service, whereas the 32-year-old driver had gotten into trouble as a teenager, came to the Gardens to do his service and stayed on afterward as a salaried employee. I met an Arab teenager who was on day one of his service for kidnapping his neighbor (no harm was done). He was probably the biggest troublemaker in the bunch.
The conversation got me thinking about prison, punishment and rehabilitation. For offenses that fall under a certain threshold, the Israeli courts allow the defendant to choose jail time (free meals, no liberty) or community service (more freedom but no compensation for months). Of the latter category, they can choose from service at public parks, museums and even senior centers, but are closely monitored.
This seems to make so much sense. If you can rehabilitate someone without putting them in jail while still having them do something for the greater good, why not? I think that most prison inmates should have to do some sort of service as part of their jail time to offset the money being spent on them and to help them find focus and rehabilitate, but I want to learn more. (Update: Yair just shared this link with me on federal prison work programs. It’s strange. Having the inmates work for twelve cents per hour feels funny to me, even though I am okay with the idea of compulsory volunteer service.)
Research shows that over half of the prison population works while incarcerated. But does anyone know what the maximum offense that an individual can commit is and still get away with community service in lieu of prison time? I’m all ears to anyone with opinions and / or good information.
posted by ayo