We’ve been covering this for years now and it’s heartening to see MSNBC bring the issue to light of the state of Georgia creating debtors prisons (and let’s cut this de facto crap out: they are debtors prisons, no matter how they phrase it or mince words). However, this article does bring some of the realities to light, even if I can take issue with a couple of parts of this article.
Most notably, the article covers the Turner v. Rogers decision, which gutted the right of indigent parents to have an attorney appointed to them Though the court case made some possible exceptions for later on (such as in cases where the state is prosecuting), in large part it boiled down due process to “fill out this form and we’ll decide if you’re guilty”. That makes action on the state level even more important.
The article also notes the racial disparity in several areas where African American defendants are paraded before white judges and attorneys, given their “15 seconds” of due process, and summarily jailed. Race does play a huge role in several of these cases, but I think class also pays a larger role. We’ve seen the “deadbeat lists”: Day laborer, day laborer, construction (seasonal) worker, etc. And that’s even assuming that they are employed, which in this economy is not certain. Not exactly a Forbes 500 list.
The point is that the people who are being jailed without due process are at the lower end of the economic (and often educational) spectrum. They have no concept of their rights or how they can explain their cases to the judges and prosecuting attorneys hellbent on running an assembly line conviction system. Throwing a man with both hands tied behind his back into a shark tank seems a fair fight in comparison.
And the results are there, if not exactly clear thanks to the lack of bookkeeping by states: 10,000 parents, or about 1,7 percent of the US jail population. That’s 1.7 percent of the population jailed for non-violent activity: namely, being poor. Are some in there because they are deliberately hiding their income? Absolutely, but I would suspect that number gets less and less the longer the person is incarcerated.
Of course, the system has its defenders, and MSNBC put one of those in the article (Georgia’s CSE wisely declined to put their foot in their mouth).
But Seth Harp, a retired Georgia state senator and former member of the state’s Child Support Guidelines Commission, said the state’s judges use incarceration sparingly.
“The methodology to put someone in jail requires that the person be taken to court before a judge and there they have to be found in willful contempt — someone who actively refuses to seek work or is hiding assets, something like that,” he said. “Judges don’t want to put people in jail. … The whole purpose is to get these people to support their children.”
Harp said he’s seen the tactic work repeatedly in his long career as a family law attorney.
“You can’t get blood out of a turnip, but you can put the turnip in the cooler,” he said. “And in 34 years of doing this, it’s amazing, you put someone in the cooler and the money seems to come.”
Oh, we’ve seen the amazing collection rates put up by putting the turnips in the cooler. Why, with that much, you can actually think about getting the kid a Wii for Christmas. And Mr. Harp doesn’t get into where they get the money, more than likely cause he knows that they aren’t getting it by selling Ferraris and Mansions but by getting friends and family to loan them some money.