‘They go to prison and still owe child support when they get out…they end up re-indicted for nonsupport’

Cleveland, OH– From Deadbeat parents should go to halfway house, lawmaker says (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 8/22/08):

To embarrass deadbeat parents into paying up, Ohio authorities have tried placing photos of the delinquent moms and dads on posters, milk cartons and pizza boxes. But one place you should not see them is in prison, said Terry Collins, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Collins supports a bill introduced in the Ohio legislature on Thursday that would urge judges to send parents guilty of not making child-support payments to halfway houses for counseling instead of prison.
It just makes sense, said Collins, who added that throwing deadbeats in prison hurts their children as much as it does the parents because the parents have no opportunity to get a job and earn money to make their payments. “It becomes a win-win situation for the children and family members of these offenders when they are able to maintain employment and provide monetary support to the family,” he said. State Rep. Ted Celeste, a suburban Columbus Democrat, introduced the bill, which would expand community corrections programs, featuring counseling services, to include negligent parents… The bill would expand a pilot program started in 2007 in seven counties — including Lorain — where deadbeats take part in community correction programs. They meet once a week with family counselors and are offered help finding jobs. It is working in Lorain, a county that from 2004 to 2006 averaged about 200 indictments each year for nonsupport, said Bart Hobart, chief probation officer for the Common Pleas Court. That figure is down to under 100 now, and fewer deadbeats are going to prison, Hobart said. He added that the county has doubled its child support collections since adding the program. “We’re encouraging judges to keep them out of prison and to give our program a shot,” Hobart said. Otherwise, nonpaying parents get stuck in a costly cycle. “They go to prison, they do their six to eight months, and they still owe child support when they get out,” Hobart said. “And then they end up being re-indicted for nonsupport.”

Read the full article here. Incarcerating child support debtors–most of whom research shows don’t pay because they can’t pay–is one of the cruelest and most counterproductive aspects of the family law system. Perhaps even worse, the men imprisoned for child support continue to rack up arrearages while they’re incarcerated. When they come out, whatever job they had is gone, and they’re far further in debt and far less employable. In my co-authored column New Justice Department Report”s Recommendations Could Reduce Prisoner Recidivism (Chicago Sun-Times, 10/26/07) I wrote:

Ex-cons and “deadbeat dads’ are two of society”s least favorite groups. As a result, it”s hard to formulate and implement reasonable policies and laws concerning the two. A new Department of Justice study on reducing prisoner recidivism focuses on an important but little-mentioned problem ex-offenders face–the crushing child support debts which accrued while they were behind bars. Upon release, child support enforcement agencies attempt to collect huge arrearages–sometimes $20,000 or more–out of dead broke, unskilled, and uneducated ex-offenders. Since interest and penalties accrue rapidly, many former prisoners struggle under a staggering debt they will never pay off. Some return to jail because of nonpayment of child support. Others are re-incarcerated after turning to illegal activity to support themselves, because at low wage lawful jobs, 40 or 50% or more of their paychecks are garnished to pay the debt. The costs of these crimes and of re-incarcerating the ex-offenders vastly outweigh the puny sums states collect in back child support. Moreover, these debts often make it impossible for ex-offenders–many of whom are young mothers and fathers who were incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses–to play a meaningful role in their children”s lives. And prisoners pay for their crimes with their time behind bars–these debts often amount to a punishment artificially extended beyond their sentences. The new report, Repaying Debts, was commissioned by the Justice Department and produced by the Council of State Governments” Justice Center. It makes some useful recommendations, including capping payments at 20% of an ex-offender”s income and streamlining the collection process… Unfortunately, numerous legislative attempts to resolve the issue have been defeated, often through demagoguery. For example, in 2005, the California Assembly Republican Caucus helped defeat a modest reform bill, with one leading Republican Assemblyman explaining, “The state should never aid and abet a convicted criminal in avoiding child support.’ Fixing this problem has nothing to do with helping criminals. It instead acknowledges the obvious–parents who are unable to work are unable to pay. All of us want ex-offenders to return to legal employment instead of crime. The Justice Department’s new report demonstrates that one important way to reduce recidivism is to end the child support system abuses these ex-offenders face.

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