Monday, January 24, 2011

The return of the debtor's prison?

We should absolutely hold fathers responsible for child support and care; however, the application of lengthy prison sentences for people financially unable to provide child support has de facto reincarnated the historic debtor's prison. Prison is not the solution to this issue. In this case, well-placed social disapproval for "dead-beat dads" (hiding assets and concealing income to avoid their financial obligations to their children) has masked fundamental class disparities in enforcement and legal representation between people of means and those living poverty. And, because those living in poverty lack proper legal representation and the available means to readily pay support, in certain cases the application of these laws criminalize poverty itself. In the US, federal debtor's prisons were abolished in 1833 (though it is still legal in six states in a limited capacity). Incarcerating solely for the failure to pay debt remains unconstitional. Furthermore, prison merely contributes to the cycle of poverty rather than providing justice or restitution for those in need of child support.

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