In a study performed by the Center for Policy Research in Denver, it was discovered that more than 50 percent of incarcerated people have children under the age of 18. Studies also found that of the parents who are in jail, half of them owe child support.
The issue that many states are now facing is that inmates are unable to make their required child support payments. Most inmates owe close to $20,000 in support by the time they are released. Because of this, many of their families end up on welfare or having to go to other extremes such as work multiple jobs just to make sure the bills are paid and there is food on the table.
A number of states in the U.S. consider jail time to be "voluntary unemployment" as a way to continue to hold inmates responsible for their child support payments. Those states do not want to reward those who have committed a crime by waving their child support obligations.
However, some experts suggest that paring down support payments for incarcerated individuals could help make sure their children get the financial assistance they need. Some suggest that inmates who are too deep in debt become less likely to pay, and those who do not pay child support are often allowed less time to see their children. Experts say that an emotional connection with the child can be a strong motivator to make regular support payments.
In an effort to combat this problem, some states have started allowing inmates to have their support requirements reduced to a minimum payment, which varies depending on the state. In other states, if a judge deems it appropriate, an inmate's support obligations can be completely waived while they do not have an income. Experts say the logic behind these concepts is that convicts will make regular payments if the requirements are realistic.
Some states have begun providing information to inmates about how they can have their support payments reduced. As, presumably, more and more individuals apply for the reduction, it will be interesting to see if they will make their payments and continue to help support their children.
Source: Associated Press, "Conn. to help inmates pare child-support bills," 1 May 2011