Top Tips for IELTS

Prison and community service sample essay

This is the next in my series of sample essays for IELTS. In this lesson, I focus on a harder essay type – one which asks you to think of your own ideas rather than just saying whether you agree/disagree or what the advantages or disadvantages are. No need to panic. The same ideas apply for this type of essay as any other – no special model is required.

  1. You need to focus on the question and your position in the introduction and the conclusion
  2. You should write organised paragraphs based around one main idea

As ever, you will find the essay to download and this time I have added detailed notes on vocabulary and some exercises to help you write the essay yourself.

Understanding the question – what do those words mean?

One way in which your essay may go wrong is if you do not understand the words in the question. One tip that can sometimes work is simply to read on. Words/phrases that you do not understand may be explained by words you do understand. in this case, you may not be familiar with “community service orders”, but you should be able to work out what is meant by the phrase “order people to work in the community to pay for their crimes”.

Prison has long been the traditional punishment for people who commit crimes. Some people believe, however, that community service orders are more appropriate in some cases. When do you think that it is right to order people to work in the community to pay for their crimes?

Understanding the question – how to structure your answer

Don’t worry if this is perhaps a less familiar question type that doesn’t fit into the model essay plans you have learned. That’s not a problem. Forget models and just read and understand the question. You have to say when community service is more appropriate than prison. This simply means you have to think of times when someone who has committed a crime should not go to prison. You then need to organise those into ideas that can make paragraphs.

My suggested structure is the simple one:

Introduction: identify the question and outline your position – when are the times CSOs are more appropriate

Content 1: Explain one time when CSOs should be used. Explain why and find an example

Content 2: Parallel to your first paragraph. Explain another time when CSOs should be used with a reason and an example

Conclusion: Parallel to the introduction – restate when CSOs should be used and summarise the main points from your content paragraphs

Don’t forget the essay rubric – give reasons too – that means saying why not just when

All IELTS essay questions come with this rubric/set of instructions:

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience

This means that even though the question asks to say “when”, you also need to say why. To repeat myself, this applies to ALL IELTS essay questions and it should become a habit to give examples and reasons for everything you say. Do this and your coherence score will improve overnight.

Ideas for the essay

Here are some ideas for prison and community service essays – some of which I use in this essay:

  • minor crimes – is it right that people who commit “small offences” should go to prison – shouldn’t the punishment fit the crime?
  • mitigating circumstances – perhaps there are understandable reasons to explain why the crime was committed – perhaps they were under the influence of someone else
  • young offenders – is it right that people under 18 should go to prison
  • influence of other criminals – sometimes prison can teach people how to become criminals because they spend all their time with other criminals
  • first time offenders – should people who have only committed one crime be given a second chance
  • prison is expensive and does not “help the community” – is it a good idea to allow criminals to make some contribution to society to pay for their crime
  • community service should be restricted to people who show remorse – or are sorry for the crime they committed

Focus on vocabulary – think word families for cohesion and collocations

One problem with an essay on law and order is that most of the vocabulary in this area is quite technical. To help you, I have highlighted the “crime” language in this essay. One thing to note is that I am quite clever in how I vary my words. I do not try and use lots of different words, rather I take a family of words and use the different words in that family. This not only makes the essay easier to write by using fewer words, it also helps it’s cohesion – all these words link to each other and so link the essay together. It is not always the case that you need to use “different” words.

The word families

  • minor offences – less serious offences – offenders – minor offenders – first time offenders – re-offend
  • criminals – career criminals – hardened criminals
  • custodial sentences – non-custodial sentences
  • community service order – community work – work in the community

The technical language and collocations

The other crime vocabulary I have highlighted in green. One point to note here is that most of these phrases work well because they use word combination or collocations well.

  • shows remorse = you could also use “be sorry for” and you should note the use of “show” in the phrase
  • mitigating factors = you could also use “good reasons to explain why they committed that crime”
  • sending them to prison: note the phrase send to prison
  • written graffiti: you can use another “minor crime” here – the idea is to show that you can use and know some technical vocabulary
  • caught driving when drunk = note the use of “catch” here to complete the phrase
  • they are ordered to = simple language works too
  • sanction = you could just use “punishment”
  • judges = some more semi-technical language

The essay to read and download

Read the complete essay

Prison has long been the traditional punishment for people who commit crimes. Some people believe, however, that community service orders are more appropriate in some cases. When do you think that it is right to order people to work in the community to pay for their crimes?

It has never been straightforward to know how to decide to punish criminals for their actions. It does seem clear, though, in this day and age that work in the community is a viable alternative to custodial sentences for minor offences and, perhaps, in cases where there are mitigating factors. In this essay, I attempt to explain when I believe these community service orders should be made.

The first set of circumstances when community work is the appropriate sanction is for less serious offences when the offender shows remorse for his actions. Part of the reason for this is that it may be wrong to take away someone’s livelihood by sending them to prison, simply because they have written graffiti on a wall. Likewise, there is a significant danger that these minor offenders would become hardened criminals if they spent time with career criminals in prison. I would emphasise, however, that it should be a condition that the criminal regrets his actions and it is only appropriate for first time offenders.

The other major instance when there is a strong argument to order people to work in the community is when their crimes are unlikely to be repeated. For example, someone who has caused an accident and been caught driving when drunk may not be sent to prison if they were driving their pregnant wife to hospital. In this case, it seems much better if they are ordered to help the community in some way such as working in a shelter for the homeless.

In summary, prison is in my view not always the best sanction and there are certain circumstances when non-custodial sentences may be both more effective and more just. In particular, judges may decide not to send to prison minor offenders and people who are unlikely to re-offend.

 The download

IELTS prison and community service essay (3739)



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5 Responses to Prison and community service sample essay

  1. EAMON July 26, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    Dear Domnic

    I really warried about answereing what to extent question.

    do I have to agree or dis agree or use both
    kind regards.


    • Dominic Cole July 26, 2012 at 8:50 am #

      You need to say HOW MUCH you agree or disagree.This means your position should something like:

      I absolutely agree/disagree
      I partiallyagree/disagree

      There are lots of different answers possible, but the clue is in the question – your answer must say HOW MUCH.

  2. Hamza Zia February 12, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Respected sir
    if you are insist to use a single word, for example 10 times in essay.So is it acceptable to have 3 synonyms for that word and repeat them when ever its needed ??

    • Dominic Cole February 13, 2013 at 12:03 am #

      Generally speaking yes it is a good idea to use synonyms rather than repeat words. I’d add that another way to avoid repetition is to use pronouns (it/her/him etc). This is sometimes preferable to synonyms as it can help the flow (or coherence) of your writing and also you can sometimes go wrong with a synonym that is not quite correct in the sentence.

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