Institute for Research on Labor and Employment
Work, Pay, or Go to Jail: Court-Ordered Community Service in Los Angeles
- Author(s): Herrera, Lucero
- Koonse, Tia
- Sonsteng-Person, Melanie
- Zatz, Noah
- et al.
Published Web Locationhttps://www.labor.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/UCLA_CommunityServiceReport_Final_1016.pdf
Each year in Los Angeles County, about 100,000 people are forced to work for free. We refer here not to wage theft or labor trafficking but to a formal government practice that uses the power of the criminal legal system to require people to work without pay. This practice is called “community service,” a euphemism for a fundamentally coercive system situated at the intersection of mass incarceration and economic inequality, with the most profound effects on communities of color. This report provides the first in-depth, empirical study of a large-scale system of court-ordered community service in the contemporary United States.
Court-ordered community service is typically understood as a progressive alternative to incarceration for people who would otherwise face jail time and/or court debt they cannot afford to pay. However, it also functions as a distinct system of labor that operates outside the rules and beneath the standards designed to protect workers from mistreatment and exploitation.