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Child Support Round-Up Time - Again

December 16, 2011 – Yee Haw, it’s time to saddle up the ponies, pull on the spurs, coil the lassoes and get ready to head out and catch some poor people again.

Seems like every year around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas various DA’s, child support and law enforcement agencies team up to head out and round up all those dangerous criminals whose crime is being to poor too pay child support.

From New Jersey to Arizona and states in between we are once again witnessing the spectacle of early morning raids creating fodder for the 6 p.m. nightly news.   Zeroing in today on Louisiana, let’s take a quick look at what’s going on in Lafourche Parish.  Lafourche Parish is about 50 miles southwest of New Orleans. 

As this article from the Daily Comet notes, 37 parents were arrested in predawn raids Wednesday.  Johnny Porche of Bayou Blue is behind all of $592 in his payments.  Maybe someone was confused and thought they might get a Porsche from Johnny.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s a little bit more going on with these roundups than meets the eye.  Rather than us speculating on what might just be motivating all this activity let’s take a look at what the actual public officials involved have to say about their activities.  Directly from the article come these gems:

 Terrebonne District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr. said the arrests are part of a last-ditch effort to get delinquent parents to do their duty.

“We have tried, but there is no money anyway,” Waitz said. “We want to give them a taste of jail.
It sends a strong message. Maybe not to (those arrested), but to those who are on the fence about paying.”

So there you have it folks, straight from the District Attorney.  Waitz knows there is no money to be had by this effort.  He just wants to send these parents to jail to send a message to other people.  Huh?  Then why don’t we just send half the population to jail so the other half won’t rob banks? 

But it gets even better.  Check out this comment from Mark Pitre, administrator for the Terrebonne District Attorney’s Office child support program.

­­­­­­“We know our jails are full,” Pitre said. “As long as we get something and the kids get something,
that's what matters…”

If ever someone said a mouthful about our current child support system in one statement Pitre has.  “We know our jails are full,” - that’s exactly right and what’s being done here is sending more people off to debtor prisons, a practice that was outlawed in America in the 1830’s.  He goes on to state “As long as we get something and the kids get something…” and that is exactly the order of priority and crux of the problem.

A growing part of the jail overcrowding problem in America today has to do with the thousands upon thousands of people sitting in debtor prisons because they are too poor to pay support.  The second part…well, Mr. Pitre let the cat right out of the bag.  Federal and state government has engineered a system that generates revenue regardless of whether child support obligors are paying or sitting in jail.  Mr. Pitre knows those bodies in the county lockup mean revenue for the county.  And the county will get those dollars whether the children ever get a dime.

We don’t have time in this space to go into all the ways child support enforcement generates revenue for states, but you’ve just heard directly from two people involved in the system stating 1) that there’s no money in these roundups and 2) as long as we (the county) gets something, that’s what matters.

It’s interesting to note that when both parents have a full relationship with their children support compliance approaches ninety percent.  It’s also noteworthy that, as researcher Dr. Sanford Braver indicates, the two greatest predictors of non support are lack of steady employment and lack of access to the children.  Reforming our custody and support laws to give children the benefit of a full relationship with both parents will do more to raise the standard of living for our kids than will ever be accomplished by our currently punitive systems. 

So before we run Trigger back to the barn and serve up some oats after a hard days ride, here are the results of New Jersey’s Cumberland county child support roundup as reported by nj.com this past Monday.   Thirty-nine arrests, $1,599.00 recovered, an average of $41 per detainee.  Statewide, New Jersey’s roundup resulted in just under 2% of the total amount owed being paid.  Draw your own conclusions.