from the Desoto Times Tribune by Robert Lee Long
A father thrown in jail for child support is unable to work to pay that debt and often loses his job. It’s a vicious cycle that is repeated time and time again. A recent New York Times article highlighted the issue of fathers who fall behind on child support, only to be incarcerated and unable to work, falling further and further behind in catching up.
For DeSoto County Jail Administrator Chad Wicker, the problem hits close to home. As a child of divorced parents, Wicker witnessed the problem firsthand. When his father fell behind in making child support payments, his mother could not collect on back child support because he lived in Texas. (Who knows how long ago this was? The Bradley Amendment is never discussed in these articles.)
States do not have reciprocal agreements to detain or arrest so-called “deadbeat dads” for overdue child support, according to Wicker.
“The problem with the dads who owe back child support is they keep coming back time and time again,” Wicker said. “We have some guys in custody who owe $70,000 or $80,000 and they are never in a position to pay it off.”
Ex-spouses of so-called “dead-beat dads” are also at a disadvantage. “Many times, the state does not get involved unless the mother is on government assistance,” Wicker said. “She can hire a private attorney or a private investigator to help her, but 99 percent of the time when a father who owes back child support gets arrested it’s because the state has a compelling interest in its litigation.”
Wicker said at the DeSoto County jail, men who have been arrested and jailed for owing back child support comprise 5 percent of the total jail inmate population but make up 40 percent of the jail’s non-violent offenders who are incarcerated.
“We usually keep between 10 to 20 in custody at any given time and for instance, today (Friday) we had a jail inmate population of 306,” Wicker said, adding 62 inmates were released Thursday following court-imposed adjudications of their sentences. According to Wicker, it costs $49.37 cents a day to house and feed an inmate.
Men who owe back child support quickly fill up beds in the jail once they again fall behind, according to Wicker. “Typically what happens is that you can go to jail if you are $2,000 behind,” Wicker said. “When you pay $400 a month, it doesn’t take long to get further behind if you get arrested and put in jail.”
Though jail is considered an effective incentive for parents who are able to pay, critics say punitive policies do not work for those who are poor, as the New York Times article points out.
A case in point was the South Carolina man, Walter L. Scott, an African-American man who was pulled over for a broken tail light by a white Charleston, S.C. police officer. It was discovered by the police officer that Scott owed more than $18,000 in back child support and was likely headed back to jail. Scott bolted and ran and was shot in the back several times as he fled by the police officer, an event which touched off riots and protests in several American cities.
According to Sarah Geraghty, who was quoted in the New York Times article on the subject, poor people are often jailed over and over again in greater numbers for back child support in disproportionate numbers than those who have an ability to pay. “Parents who are truly destitute go to jail over and over again for child support debt simply because they are poor,” Geraghty was quoted in the New York Times article as saying.
According to the New York Times, a 2007 Urban Institute study of child support debt in nine large states found that 70 percent of people in arrears were “owed by people who reported less than $10,000 a year in income.”
In Scott’s case, he spent two weeks in jail and lost his $35,000-a-year job at a filmmaking company, in addition to sending him into an emotional and psychological spiral. Scott is now dead and obviously unable to pay not only any debt to his second wife and their children but any supposed debt to society.
DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco said he would like to see these incarcerated fathers out working than taking up badly needed jail beds in his facility. “If they have a job, I would like to see them on an ankle bracelet and keep them on the job,” Rasco said. “It would help them and their families and help us keep our numbers down. If they lose their job, they’ll never catch up.”
It’s bad enough to be labeled a ‘deadbeat’ or actually be dead, but the US has become so legally radicalized that ‘authorities’ believe that ankle bracelets are an answer, as if jail has ever been an answer. Coercion and fear are obviously what this is about, not about any pretense at a solution. It all about corporation exploitation by the state. Imagine – the US considers itself superior in the battle for ‘human rights.’ Fathers are little more than a paycheck, and that’s the way the state likes it. Surely, the founding fathers of this nation would turn over in their graves, that is, if they were able. – MJR