Academic journal article Policy & Practice of Public Human Services

Inside Story

Academic journal article Policy & Practice of Public Human Services

Inside Story

Article excerpt

In 1999, the federal government introduced a minimum child support payment of $260 per year under the Child Support Act. Child support payers earning between $260 and $12,000 are required to pay at least $260 per year (or $5 per week) in child support. Under previous child support legislation, imprisoned parents could apply for exemption from child support because of insufficient income by notifying the child support enforcement agency of their imprisonment. That exemption, however, is no longer available.

Many inmates have reported on the hardship of having an ever-increasing child support debt accruing against them, which they are unable to pay from their meager allowance. Many inmates already find themselves having to decide between such basic amenities as soap or to maintain vital contact with their families by occasional telephone calls. This is particularly difficult for inmates in remote and regional prisons, who incur long-distance telephone expenses. Inmates have also expressed concern about being released from prison with no employment, and no immediate prospects of employment, to be faced by another debt from the child support enforcement agency.

Thus, imprisoned parents who owe child support find themselves in quite a conundrum. To examine this situation more fully, our cover feature highlights a conversation with Jessica Pearson and Esther Griswold of the Center for Policy Research in Denver, Colorado. Nearly two million inmates in the United States are noncustodial parents who owe child support. Many of them enter prison delinquent in their child support payments. Unfortunately, imprisonment, which is considered "voluntary" unemployment, does not end a court order to pay child support. Thus, inmates continue to owe child support despite their limited incomes.

But the picture isn't totally bleak--some states are implementing policies that promise to support imprisoned, noncustodial parents' successful reentry into their communities, promote payment, and reduce child support balances owed. Pearson and Griswold share what the states are doing with incarcerated parents who owe child support.

Also in this issue, you'll find a feature on family planning efforts in Washington State. …

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