2011-01 The Convocation Opposes Repressive and Counterproductive Policies Dealing with the Debt of Child Support in the Case of the Incarcerated

The National Convocation of Jail and Prison Ministry opposes the incarceration of people solely because of the debt of child support, thus creating a modern-day “debtors’ prison.”

In Connecticut, 36% of the open child support cases involve more than 44,000 non-custodial parents who have been or are currently in prison. Nationally, non-custodial parents exit prison with an average debt of $20,000. A Colorado study concluded that over half of the arrears (in the study) are owed to the government and the average arrears case is over seven years old. We question how this situation helps children?

We believe that the collateral consequences of incarceration and a felony conviction imposed upon the non-custodial parent victimize the family by further destroying that parent’s ability to function in a productive way for the children.

The collateral consequences of incarceration include, but are not limited to:
A) Difficulty with employment
B) Difficulty with housing
C) Personal stigma with being a “felon,” “convict,” “offender”
D) Loss of dignity, housing, employment, bank accounts, friends, family
E) Loss of right to vote

In addition, the accumulation of child support while the parent is incarcerated can become overwhelming to the point of not paying any support payments after release. There is the added employment obstacle of looking for “cash only” jobs or encountering employers that “no longer need you” once the garnishment is in place. A loss of license can also impact the ability to find or maintain a job. Arrears are often collected from state or federal income tax, thus “encouraging” the non-custodial parent not to file their taxes. To top it off, in several states, people under the jurisdiction of probation and parole have supervision fees to pay—additional money that is taken away from the custodial parent and potentially, from the children.

Other issues often burden a parent not paying child support (e.g. substance abuse, divorce, lack of parenting skills)—incarceration rarely helps the parent to address these problems. Incarceration becomes an even larger barrier than the lack of support payments when children cannot visit their parent, are not able to talk on the phone and are embarrassed by having a parent in prison.

Therefore, the National Convocation of Jail and Prison Ministry supports efforts we consider to be concrete and positive approaches to the issue of child support and incarceration. A list of some existing efforts that we support is attached to this position paper.


There are solutions: (As of May 2011)
A) Washington D.C.’s “Fresh Start” program which allows for a portion of the non-custodial parent’s TANF arrears to be forgiven for consecutive on-time payments.
B) The Wisconsin Bureau of Child Support, the Racine County Child Support Department, and the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) are implementing a child support debt reduction demonstration program called, Families Forward in Racine County. The program aims to reduce child support debt (arrears owed by non-custodial parents) while increasing child support payments. Every dollar that participating non-custodial parents pay in support will reduce their unpaid debt by an extra $0.50 or $1.00. Nor will parents be charged interest on arrears while they are participating in the program. Unpaid interest will be deduced first, then other unpaid balances.
C) In April 2003, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families issued a report, “Managing Child Support Arrears, a Discussion Framework.” This report outlines progressive programs available in some states and includes a survey from 2001 regarding Establishment or Modification of Support Orders with Respect to NCP.
D) In 2006, Connecticut started sending information to all inmates with more than three years remaining on their sentence to help them get child support orders amended. In 2011, similar information is being given to many inmates coming into prison.
E) In Illinois and Maryland, former prisoners are allowed to have some of the debt wiped clean if they make regular child support payments for a specific length of time.

Fresh Start Program

Institute for Research on Poverty

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children & Families, the Office of Child Support Enforcement

National Center for Strategic Nonprofit Planning and Community Leadership: Managing Arrears: Child Support Enforcement and Fragile Families

Connecticut to help inmates pay child support bills—two articles from Forbes