UCLA Labor Center

Get to Work or Go To Jail

© Peter Thoeny, CC BY-NC-SA

2016 / Noah Zatz, Tia Koonse, Theresa Zhen, Lucero Herrera, Han Lu, Steven Shafer, and Blake Valenta

When many people consider work and the criminal justice system, they commonly consider how difficult it is for people coming out of jail to find work. Yet, a recent UCLA Labor Center report, Get to Work or Go To Jail: Workplace Rights Under Threat, goes further by exploring the ways in which the criminal justice system can also lock workers on probation, parole, facing court-ordered debt, or child support debt into bad jobs. Because these workers face the threat of incarceration for unemployment, the report finds that they cannot afford to refuse a job, quit a job, or to challenge their employers.

Among other findings, the report concludes:

  • Nearly 5 million Americans and 400,000 Californians are under probation or parole
  • Many of these workers may be stripped of standard labor protections such such as minimum wage and workers compensation
  • On any given day, about 9,000 nationwide are in prison or jail for violating the probation or parole requirement to hold a job.
  • Every year in Los Angeles, 50,000-100,000 people must perform unpaid, court-order community service. Some debtors perform many hundreds of hours of unpaid labor, the equivalent to several months of full-time work.
  • African Americans or Latinos account for 2/3 of those incarcerated for violating parole or probation conditions related to work or debt.
  • The majority of fathers who were incarcerated for failing to pay child support worked during the previous year, in fact 95% of fathers reported having been employed prior to incarceration. Of these fathers, 85% of these fathers lived in or near poverty.

This report was written in collaboration with the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and a A New Way of Life Reentry Project.

Related Links:

American Constitution Society for Law and Policy-Free Labor In The Shadow of Mass Incarceration

A New Peonage?: Pay, Work, or Go To Jail in Contemporary Child Support Enforcement and Beyond

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights-Not Just a Ferguson Problem – How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California

The Nation- You Either Work or Go to Jail

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Get to Work or Go To Jail