Get To Work or Go To Jail: State Violence and the Racialized Production of Precarious Work
- Author(s): Zatz, Noah
- et al.
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1017/lsi.2019.56
Work requirements backed by threats of incarceration offer a fertile but neglected site for sociolegal inquiry. These “carceral work mandates” confound familiar accounts of both the neoliberal state’s production of precarious work through deregulation and the penal state’s production of racialized exclusion from labor markets. In two illustrative contexts—child support enforcement and criminal legal debt—demands for work emerge as efforts to increase and then seize earnings from indigent debtors; an ability to pay is defined to include an ability to work. In a third, demands for work are imposed directly through probation, parole, and other community supervision. In each context, the carceral state regulates work outside of prison. It defines appropriate labor conditions through concepts of voluntary unemployment, and it enables employers to discipline or retaliate against workers by triggering state violence. Additionally, mandated work may be removed from employment law protections when the carceral context dominates its sociolegal meaning. Finally, the resulting vulnerable workforces can be used to displace or discipline other workers not personally subject to carceral work mandates. Analogies to welfare work requirements, workplace immigration enforcement, and prison labor illustrate these points. Implications are considered for theorizing contemporary racial political economy.