Inmate labor fuels prisons. The incarcerated work in prison industries that collaborate with private corporations. Fair labor laws do not apply to prisons, where it is common for inmates to earn less than one dollar per hour. But involvement with the criminal justice system continues to shape and hinder the future employment and earnings of the formerly incarcerated long after they have been released. In this issue of RSF, edited by sociologist Sandra Susan Smith and legal scholar Jonathan Simon, an interdisciplinary group of scholars analyzes how the criminal justice system acts as a de facto labor market institution by compelling or coercing labor from the justice-involved.
The social and economic effects of criminal justice involvement are widespread, with almost seven million people under some form of direct supervision. The contributors to this issue examine how the criminal justice system affects the livelihood and families of both the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. Cody Warner, Joshua Kaiser, and Jason Houle explore how “hidden sentences” – restricted access to voting rights, public housing, and professional licensing – negatively impact labor market outcomes for young adults with criminal records. Michele Cadigan and Garbriela Kirk look at the burden of court fees and fines, or legal financial obligations, that place a strain on the work commitments and resources of low-income people. Joe LaBriola sheds new light on how employment affects recidivism; he shows that parolees who find high-quality jobs, such as in the manufacturing industry, are less likely to return to prison than those employed in low-quality jobs. Noah Zatz and Michael Stoll demonstrate how the threat of imprisonment for nonpayment of child support coerces labor among noncustodial fathers, particularly African-American men. Allison Dwyer Emory and her coauthors show that previously incarcerated fathers are less likely to pay either formal or informal cash child support or offer in-kind assistance to their children’s mothers.
This issue of RSF is a timely contribution to the field of scholarly literature that illuminates the far and often destructive reach that the criminal justice system has on those whose lives it touches. It advances our understanding of how the system functions as a labor market institution and the price it extracts from those involved with it.