Wednesday, June 16, 2010

No greater returns from counties jailing deadbeat dads

A feature from the San Antonio Express-News ("Don't pay child support, go directly to jail," June 15) offered data from Texas' largest counties regarding jailing for non-payment of child support. The story focused on Bexar County jailing more frequently in aggregate than other counties, but as a percentage of total cases in 2008, Travis County roughly doubled Bexar County's rate. In San Antonio, deadbeat dads were jailed at a rate of one for every 115 open cases that year; in Travis County the rate was one for every 60 cases, extrapolating from data provided in this chart accompanying the story:

(I assume the last column is mislabeled and should be 2009 - it happens to the best of us - but to be on the safe side I've used 2008 data for all calculations.)

By comparison to Travis and Bexar, other large counties rates jail deadbeat dads at substantially lower rates. In Houston, deadbeat dads are jailed at a rate of one for every 1,476 open cases. By contrast, Harris County's average amount disbursed per open case in 2008 ($2,592) was higher than Bexar ($2,437) or Travis ($2,158). So there's no obvious reason to believe these tactics generate more income for dependents.

Reports the Express-News: "The vast discrepancy reflects a tougher-than-average philosophy in Bexar County in which parents who owe child support more often are summoned to court, judicial officials said. Usually, they’ll stay in jail for a few days or weeks to teach them a lesson or until they come up with some money." That said,
Not everyone, however, agrees.

“It’s counterproductive to me, and it just doesn’t make a lot of sense,” County Judge Nelson Wolff said.

It costs the county $60 a day to house a prisoner in Bexar County Jail, which often is overcrowded, he said. That equates to $2.7 million taxpayers must pay each year to incarcerate the parents, he estimated.

Hand in hand with the cost is the problem of jail overcrowding.

“I think there has to be a better way to do it,” Wolff said.
He added that:
with a child support collection rate on par with Dallas County, Bexar County’s judicial philosophy doesn’t make sense, Wolff said. Once a person is in jail, he’ll lose his job or can’t look for work.

“It just doesn’t add up,” he said. “Obviously, all of the other counties have come to the same conclusion except for us. ..... You’re putting them in there with the criminal element. ..... Jail should be for the protection of the public.”

Wolff said he has been critical of the incarceration rate for most of his political career with the county. But it’s the elected district court judges who hire the child support court judges, and so his griping has had little effect, he lamented.
Keep griping, Judge Wolff. You're exactly right on this one.


Charlie O said...

Jailing non-custodial parents (deadbeat dad is complete misnomer, women are ordered to pay child support also), is basically debtors prison. Something this country supposedly did away with with independence from Great Britain. How do you make someone in jail pay up? As was quoted in the article, if anything, it will make things worse for them and less likely to pay. Pure unadulterated stupidity if you ask me. And it doesn't happen only in Texas.

Anonymous said...

So we just impose the "honor system" on parents who don't pay child support or what, Grits? If they don't pay, then, well,....tough luck to the custodial parent? What if they refuse to work? How do you make them get a job? Lots of these fathers who have multiple children by multiple women owe more in monthly child support obligations than they might ever hope to earn on the job? If you can't threaten them with jail, what incentive do they have to work? What are the alternatives? Take away their driver's license? Force them to do community service? Castration?

I think this data out of Bexar County may be a little suspect. I wonder what the comparitive unemployment rates and income rates are for Bexar County vs. the other counties? Here again, Grits identifies a perceived "problem" but fails to offer a solution. Typical "touchy feely" liberal mentality. How about a little sympathy for the kids, Grits? Or is your compassion more for the dead-beats?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:51, smart ass isn't an argument. What your sneering recitation ignores is that counties like Harris which incarcerate less are getting the same or even more revenue for kids by the metrics from the SA Express News. So I don't need to invent a new "solution" from scratch when what's happening with similar cases in Houston or Fort Worth, for example, already have proven a workable model that gets the same or better results. Tarrant County retrieved more than $3K per open case in 2008 - nearly 25% more than Bexar - but they jailed just 76 people. So there's already a more efficient, workable model out there. Why not use it and save money?

If you have actual sympathy for the kids (as opposed to just using them as a foil for anonymous demagoguery), you should want their parent to pay as much as they can and also for their relationship with their child to be as close to normal as possible. Jailing the parent either reduces or at least does not increase revenue generated, plus it costs taxpayers millions, harms the kids through no fault of their own, and fails to pass any rational cost-benefit test.

Anonymous said...

I am serious about this question. Maybe somebody can explain this mystery. By the time the child is born the mother often acts as if there never was a man involved. It seems normal for her to take care of things from then on. My question is: since the man is a vague memory at the time of the birth, when did he bail out of the picture? Lets say the baby was born nine months after his contribution. Did he bail out three months after the conception, one months, one day?

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but conception would seem to imply some (at least pretended) emotional connection between the couple engaging in this very personal act. However, that emotional connection (if it ever existed) is so fragile that it doesn't survive for nine months? Some tell me that these deadbeat men are all players. Is that the case?

What happens to the man involved during those nine months?!!

Anonymous said...

What do you do if they just won't pay, period? How do you make someone pay who doesn't want to work and doesn't care? What do you do with these cases? Anything?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't have all the answers, 4:33, but if jailing them empirically extracts less money than tactics used in other counties, where's the cost-benefit sense in doing it? You can't get blood from a stone.

Also, clearly the other counties including Tarrant, etc., are still using jail time in the most extreme instances where people defy the court, just not for more routine noncompliance due to inability to pay.

TDCJEX said...

Why can't a civil court simply garner a percentage of the persons income ? It is nearly impossible to exist with out having some sort of financial record somewhere. Yes I know a few will not get caught but it would be a hell of a lot easier than arresting and locking up some one and much less expensive. besides that the odds of actually getting the funds in first place .If government agencies can use electronic/ digital transactions for taxes and paying employees using a debit card for “food stamps “ and all the other transactions that takes place 24/7 . Courts have been able to make sure you qualify for a court appointed attorney thy can make sure you pay child support with out locking some one p

It is next to impossible to have a rational discussion or conversation with the wingnuts and assorted ignorant or disturbed individuals who think that incarceration is the solution to every problem. I don't bother anymore it is a waste of time and effort . It is better to ignore them unless a response is appropriate. That kind of mentality has gotten us into the mess we have to day .

Grits I don't think the anon really cares about the child at all they just enjoy annoying people up and spouting his irrational nonsense . He is a useful idiot though and can be entertaining in his zealotry he also shows us just how easily manipulated some of the population do really are.

BTW There is a very simple workable soultion in my post .

Anonymous said...

I have struggled to collect child support for off and on 15 years. At present, he owes $10,000, works for his girlfriend's business part-time for room and board and also has a part-time cash only service business.

His family has the means to pay it and the last time the AG finally did something about it, they jailed him for only a $1000 cash bond that went to the child support. It was taken care of in about 2 hours.

He no-showed for a followup hearing and now they have another warrant out - this time with no bond. Like I tried to tell the AG office the first time, he will again be out in a matter of hours.

I realize this is an anomaly, but this jail thing works for me and both me and the bank are glad it is available as an option.

Ever heard of a "deadbeat employer"? I have run into three of them and had to take one in front of the family court judge to get him to remit what he had deducted, about $2000. This guy has about 60 employees and uses the deducted wages as an interest-free loan and also charges them the monthly administrative fee. And, the interest that accumulates on the past due child support is charged to the employee. What a scam!

I have heard the family courts in Jefferson County have a total program and they actually supervise all these bad players. If that is true, someone should get on here and tell us about it so we can spread the word.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To be clear, 7:01, ALL jursidictions use incarceration to some extent for cases where people have money and are defying the court. In San Antonio they're also jailing people who can't pay to "teach them a lesson," but it turns out the lesson "don't be poor" doesn't typically stick and the aggregate result, anecdotes aside, is collecting LESS money for people like you.

Your final thought about strengthening community supervision in lieu of incarceration IMO is on the right track.

Anonymous said...

Fact of the matter is jail is quite effective. Many testify that they haven't a dime. Then once the iron bars are shut they come up with the money through friends, relatives or other sources.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If jail's great effectiveness is a "fact," 8:18, then why do the counties jailing the most people over this have lower collections rates? If jailing people works so well, why would Tarrant get nearly 1/4 more collections per person than Bexar while jailing less?

R. Shackleford said...

Charlie O nailed it. It's debtor's prison, pure and simple. And our forefathers did do away with it. But the arbitrary rule of law has advanced so far beyond what those fine men would have put up with, it's almost a completely different animal. Thomas Jefferson would be loading his guns, rallying the troops, and spitting flaming invective on the steps of the White house by now.

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting concept, Shackleford. That notion that the obligation support one's child is a "debt." I guess that's where we've gotten to in this country and in this age of moral relativism. You charge a purchase on your Visa card, it's a debt. You get a loan to buy a car or go to college, it's a debt. You get a mortgage to buy a house, it's a debt. You bring a living, breathing person into the world who has to be fed, clothed and cared for, it's just a debt. No big deal. If you default, we'll place a lien on any property you own and garnish your wages if you're actually responsible enough to have a job. Otherwise, it's no big deal. Society and the government can just take care of the kids. Why do you think we have Headstart, or Medicaid, or free lunches at school, or AFDC? It's not like taxpayers are really having to pay REAL MONEY to raise and support these children. I mean really, why in the world should someone be punished for not wearing a condom? It's just a momentary lapse in good judgment or personal responsibility. Kind of like charging stuff on your credit card that you don't have money to pay for, right?

Meanwhile, on another thread, some poor woman is blaming the State of Texas because her husband managed to get himself locked up and can't get good health care. I guess that's the taxpayers' responsibility too, huh? Probably had absolutely nothing to do with the personal choices one made to engage in certain improper or risky behaviors which carried legal consequences, did it?

I wonder, is there any personal irresponsibility that exists in today's society that you liberals aren't willing to overlook or forgive, other than maybe income tax evasion?

If we have truly gotten to the point that a parent's personal MORAL responsibility to raise and support his or her child is now nothing more than a mere "debt," then it's no wonder this country is going to hell.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The question here, 12:37, is the proper role of the government. There is a school of thought which believes government's main or even only function is to punish people who violate rules. You clearly fall into that camp, at least on this topic.

IMO in this particular instance the role of government should be to maximize returns for kids and to the extent possible promote normalized parent-child relationships. If that assessment of government's role is accurate, counties that jail less generate more revenue, plus jailing parents disrupts parental relations instead of affirming them.

Explaining to a 3 year old why Daddy's in jail is no fun; take it from someone who's been forced to perform that unfortunate task. Jailing a parent punishes the child, too, and they didn't do anything. That's not to say never jail parents. But for this particular offense, a big part of what's at stake are the best interests of the child, and kids need their parents presence as much as their money.

Again, other counties still jail people for nonpayment, just at MUCH lower rates (and thus less expense from jail, court costs, etc.) than Bexar and Travis.

Finally, regarding your rant at Shackelford about the decline in American morals, etc., how would you characterize owed back child support if not as "debt"? I'm not trying to be flip, but I thought owed money was the definition of "debt." There is even a specific exemption for debts "in the nature of support" for children in the bankruptcy code disallowing the discharge of child support obligations through bankruptcy.

So it's a "debt" under the law, whatever politically correct term you'd prefer we use. FWIW, I also don't use the term Freedom Fries. :)

R. Shackleford said...

Hey 12:37: You're flat ass taking my dislike of government debt practices and twisting it to paint me as someone who thinks fathers have no obligation to support their offspring. I don't support non-payment of child support, and I must say that when you so obviously play word games to support a backassward policy, you reveal yourself as the small minded parrot that you are. If you must resort to skulduggery, at least make it INTERESTING skulduggery. In short, your tactics suck.

Anonymous said...

The use of jail forces payment by people who are not obligated, rarely (in Bexar) is it proven that the payor is actually able to pay the money and does not which is necessary for contempt. I do not generally practice in these two courtrooms, but the payors friends and family have no legal obligation to pay support and this practice usually extorts money out of them.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious:

Instead of comparisons between counties that jail for non-payment and counties that don't, what would a comparison between the same county at different periods look like, after said county begins, or ends, jailing for non-payment?

(I don't claim to know what conclusions such a comparison would support, but it would probably be informative.)

PirateFriedman said...

"What do you do if they just won't pay, period? How do you make someone pay who doesn't want to work and doesn't care? What do you do with these cases? Anything?"

I'd say, if you never married the girl, you shouldn't have to pay anything. You didn't sign a contract to be responsible just because you fucked the girl.

Anonymous said...

He got some. Let the taxpayers pay.

Anonymous said...

I went through support enforcement procedings many years ago in Judge Rauche's court after losing my job and missing a single payment. The order being enforced provided for retroactive support of $50/mo on top of the regular support of $425/mo.

I was paid up current by the time I went to court but the AG's office decided they wanted me to pay all the retroactive support then and there which I couldn't possibly do. Rausch sentenced me to 30 days and suspended imposition on the condition I pay all of it off in the next month. I complained that the original order gave me five years to pay off some $3000 in medical costs from before my kid's birth. The judge just shrugged and said "You should have thought about that before you missed a payment."

I was livid at the judge because this wasn't about me paying nothing at all, it was about them wanting to get me off the docket as soon as possible. I was already stretched out financially living in my car and eating at churches.

Well, before the next hearing I did some research and discovered that any monies owed prior to the establishment of an initial support order are not "child support" but ordinary debt, and the Texas Family Code specifically omitted incarceration as an enforcement measure, unlike that for regular support.

On the day of the hearing I brought copies of the statute and the relevant case law and explained my position but Rauche ordered me remanded.

After two weeks in jail a very sweet lady corporal who runs the work release program for the Sherrif's department called me to her office and offered to put me on work release if I paid the county $150/week rent and everything else I earned towards child support.

As tempting as it was I declined, and the very next morning I was back in front of Judge Rauche. I respectfully told him he was violating state and federal law and besides that, there's no way I'm paying anyone to imprison me illegally.

He then entered an order increasing the contempt sentence to 180 days, which was another violation of due process, and sent me back off to jail.

After 60 days I worked up a writ of habeas corpus citing five separate violations of due process. The day after the judge got his copy he sent over to the jail an order of conditional release he wanted me to sign if I agreed to show up in 30 days to start the enforcement procedings again.

I refused to sign it and the next morning there I am in front of Judge Rausche again but now his whole attitude has changed. He tells me "Sir, why won't you sign? We're just trying to make sure your child is getting what's owed him.

I told him he should have thought about that before violating my rights because my kid sure wouldn't get any money if I'm in jail. By the end of the day he had ordered me released unconditionally, and they would have to hunt me down and serve me personally with enforcement papers or there would be no way to put a warrant out. It's what this article refers to as "release and reset."

I have long since payed back everything I owe but that's all my kid gets anymore is the monthly check, what that judge did destroyed any chance I had of staying involved in his life. Yep, he really taught me a lesson.

R. Shackleford said...

Hey Annie 3:52: Well done:)I love to read about bullies who get a bloody nose:)

Anonymous said...

No offense Rusty, but it's my kid who will grow up to be the bully because like me he's pissed off at authority figures and will get the idea they are just out to jerk him over.

I failed my son...I wrote that post on Father's Day and believe me it all haunts me every year.

I wish I hadn't been such a stubborn bastard now but I live with what I did.

Still, that James Rauch child support master in Bexar county can DIAF for all I care.

Anonymous said...

Oh yea, you lawyers who post here on Grits don't know jack shit about civil contempt procedings and how it relates to child support law.

Where the hell is TexasBluesMan and his HandyDandy Nexus when we need him?

I'm not advocating anyone shirk their resposibilities to their children, but we all know how parents fight and things get ugly and kids start getting used for revenge when the "grownups" decide to split up.

I know it's not a death penalty thing and it brings no glory but you lawyers in Texas totally suck when it comes to child support law.

All them guys in jail got their without a lawyer because they aren't entitled to one in a civil proceding and they sure can't afford one because by the time they get to court they are broke.

The number of cases in Bexar County for wrongful imprisonment would be astonomical, the judge doesn't even look at the paperwork. It would be a bonanza for any lawyer who had the balls to take it on.

But we know how that would all turn out. Your ass would be black-balled within the court system and every feminist group in town would castigate you. You'd never get laid again except for, god forbid, your spouse.

Anonymous said...

None taken, and I understand your sorrow. But I still think standing up for yourself in the face of overwhelming intimidation is salutatory. And maybe your kid will understand that someday. Some life lessons (the ones that count, not the kind the court makes for you) really suck.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rusty. The lesson I learned is the judicial system is full of crap and when they threaten you with jail you politely tell them "okay, I'll do my time."

It's not what they want to hear and it goes against the proactive stuff Grits preaches here but I guarantee it will make them reconsider how they jerk people over in the future.

That $60/day incarceration fee adds up fast and then when someone like me starts documenting improprieties in appeals to bogus court orders it gets their attention real fast.

A few years after all this happened I went down to the District Clerk's office to get certified copies and found my case file in total disarray and a bunch of motions and orders mysteriously missing.

The record is all still on the microfiche, but it's kind of comical someone thought they could rewrite history.

Anonymous said...

Can bexar jail come up with a program job for inmate pay child support they should make them. Work n help the inmate get a job how can the inmate pay anything by setting down not do nothing by being in there not making them work its lucksher to them cause there doing is wasting tax payer money they. Should help get on there feet to pay child support

Anonymous said...

I witnessed one guy go straight to jail in the 309th District Family Law Court in Harris County for being only behind by 11 months worth of child support. Guardian Child Support Enforcement was running the case or something and he went right with the bailiff. The odd thing was is that not one person in that courtroom seemed the least bit surprised. That's family law courts in Texas... yahoo!

Anonymous said...

Explaining to a kid why dad is in jail isn't always a big deal or necessary. My son's father has been in for 4 months so far. In the past 9 years he has made fewer than 6 months of payments, hasn't called in about 7 years, and hasn't bothered to see him AT ALL in nine years. To say my son hasn't noticed him missing is an understatement. The only reason I new was because out of boredom one night I pulled up my case info on the internet. Though locking him up is a waste of taxes and will not get my son any money... I don't have any sympathy for him either.

Anonymous said...

According to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, $108 billion in total back payments was owed to parents with custody of children in 2009/49% of that unpaid money -- or roughly $53 billion -- is owed to the government, according to Joan Entmacher, vice president of family & economic security of the National Women's Law Center.. Enforcement is getting worse, not better - about 20% was what I read somewhere. Most deadbeats can choose not to pay and know they will face no consequences. The answer is easy - since the gov. most often has to take up the slack for deadbeats - make them an "bond" worker for the state until they have paid off their debt to society - because that is who pays financially, and the children who pay emotionally and a custodial parent who lives with the daily stress of being "both" parents usually and having to get by on nothing on top of that. We have been told that it is the magical presence of two parents that is the golden standard and best for children, but since most of these deadbeats are also absent from all other responsibilities as well, maybe we should factor in POVERTY more prominently in the equation when factoring those delinquent children and their poor outcomes. We have all these children in single headed households living below the proverty level and we put such emphasis on their "involvement" - maybe it's just me, but when they can walk away, I'm not sure they have much to offer - maybe instead of spending millions on grants to help "fatherhood initiatives" (since about 80% of custodial parents are women) we might think about using that money to help the deadbeats' kids survive and keep custodial parents home and with their kids instead of working multiple jobs (which was my only alternative as CS). 12 years now - no contact, no child support - the courts mantra was "all dads are good dads" but you can't really tell it by my ex. Came out in court that not only was the ex still married to a previous wife, but still being garnished for 30 year old kids in another state. As for any stigma associated with incarceration - well, not needed - he's sending himself there for dui's fast enough. His attorney made it crystal clear what the game was - ask for support and he will suddenly develop an interest in the child he's never known...and we'll be the ones that pay. Now, with the advent of the new tactic,(50/50 or Shared custody) I pity any women foolish enough to have a child - if the courts cannot, will not enforce a monetary amount to provide for a child, how can there ever be a decision about a fair division of time and voluntary support? Imagine the nightmare for abuse victims - spouses and children with that presumption. Abusers already have a heyday in family court given the grants and presumptions about those "good dads" that are SO essential - well, for whatever it is they magically do with no support and no contact and heaven forbid, you wind up on assistance - cause damn those single moms. I didn't go on assistance, but looking back, it was just my kid who paid. He's gotten off scott free - and she's number 5 for him and he's been gainfully employed all along, but as a truck driver he can change jobs so frequently, no one but uncle Sam can keep up and he gets his, but the deadbeats' kid isn't near as lucky.

Anonymous said...

The support that is successfully collected is usually done by garnishment or automatic deductions according to the gov., so maybe someone can explain why that's not an automatic thing? I also have read that 75% of the Deadbeats COULD pay, but choose not to. Maybe Bexar Co. is getting kickbacks for filled beds or something...I'm sure they have their angle. The courts are pretty good at figuring out an angle to make a buck. Maricopa Co. AZ is always full of fun ideas - read this a while back when Sheriff Arpaio decided to pu some deadbeats (some in some ritzy parts of Scottsdale btw), "There were a total of 37 arrests, 49 cleared warrants and over $203,000 in Child Support collected as a result of Saturday's operation."