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Monday, September 29, 2008

'They go to prison and still owe child support when they get out…and owe double what they originally owed.

The way the laws are written now, a felon who owes child support can owe more and face more jail time. I admit that the person should not have committed a crime, but they did. Now with the insane laws favoring the custodial parent, 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.
The amount should either stop the minute he gets incarcerated or debt should be paid in full when a sentence is given to the inmate. Doing anything more than that is setting the inmate up for failure.
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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