In the blizzard of publicity surrounding the murder of Walter Scott, the unarmed African-American who was shot in the back as he ran from a routine traffic stop, the media has somewhat belatedly discovered the criminalization of child support enforcement. What it has yet to address fully is the way that criminalization imposes child support terms on poor, often minority, men that can be much harsher than those imposed through the system that typically applies to middle class families.
Earlier this week, The New York Times discussed the way state-initiated child support enforcement, as it prioritizes extracting payment from poor men who cannot afford it, is a disastrous trap. The article focused on the experiences of Walter Scott, shot in the back after he was pulled over by police for a broken taillight. Scott ran because he feared being sent to jail for falling behind in his child support payments. His death occurred, according to one source in the story, as part of a punitive system that imprisons men “’over and over again for child support debt simply because they’re poor.’”
Those fighting the excessive incarceration – and murder – of African-American men have highlighted the pointless criminalization of child support enforcement. In South Carolina, a state where African-Americans constitute 28% of the population, 70% of those who end up in jail because of child support issues are black. While a system that sends poor men to jail for debts they cannot pay is unconscionable, so too is the establishment of many child support awards in the first place: they are arbitrary, unfair and at odds with the treatment of elite fathers and, often, of the parents’ own arrangements.
Child support today reflects a system that results in the treatment of poor fathers dramatically differently from wealthy fathers. Read More