Dr. Helen

So Where is the Outrage?

Huffington Post: “One-Eighth Of South Carolina Inmates Were Jailed Over Child Support Payments. Walter Scott Was One Of Them”:

Like so many other noncustodial parents in South Carolina, Scott frequently found himself in jail or under the threat of incarceration. That’s because the state metes out especially harsh punishments to those who fall behind on paying child support.

A recent MSNBC investigation highlighted that in South Carolina, noncustodial parents can be held in contempt of civil court if their child support payments are just five days late, which means a judge can send them to jail.

Libba Patterson, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and a former director of the South Carolina Department of Social Services, has been a vocal supporter of an ongoing effort to reform the way South Carolina punishes those who owe child support payments — an effort that has gone all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

In 2009, Patterson conducted a survey of 33 county jails in South Carolina, which found that one out of every eight inmates — or 13.2 percent of the inmate population — was behind bars for contempt of civil court after falling behind on child support payments. In Charleston County, where Walter owed his back payments on child support, Patterson’s survey found that over 15 percent of inmates had been imprisoned for not paying child support. In a handful of the other counties studied, the figure was as high as 20 percent.

Terry Brennan points out that most of those jailed are men. Men’s bodies belong to the state in so many ways; one of them is the involuntary servitude they must serve if they owe a debt for child support. The Walter Scott story is one of police brutality in the news, but the real story here is that men are swept up by the state for owing debts and then turn desperate enough to run from the police because of their situation. When men are so easily turned over to the state for various “offenses” bad things often happen. Maybe the state should rethink its blind willingness to make men criminals over matters that should not include jail time.