Over at LewRockwell.com, Wendy McElroy says the way the judicial system treats "deadbeat dads" has essentially recreated debtors' prison. An excerpt:
An amazing lack of data surrounds some basic questions: How many "deadbeat dads" are in the correctional system? Do they refuse to pay or are they unable to do so?
…..for almost 30 years, an army of civil servants and government officials have spent billions of dollars to track down "deadbeat dads." Yet even such basic and easily collected data as how many have been jailed is difficult to find.
The DOJ states that 2,078,570 people were incarcerated "in Federal or State prisons or in local jails" as of June 30, 2003. The crimes for which people were incarcerated are sorted into four categories: Violent, Property, Drug, Public-order. There is no category for "deadbeat dads." Indeed, the local family courts that sentence fathers for non-payment generally do so on "contempt of court" charges; that is, the fathers are in contempt of a court-ordered payment. This makes their cases difficult to sort out from other contempt charges.
To my knowledge, there is no national data on the number of "deadbeat dads" incarcerated on "contempt" for non-payment.
The numbers are important. Prison populations are growing rapidly even as crime rates continue to sharply decline. According to the DOJ, the number of people incarcerated rose by 130,700 or by "2.9% from midyear 2002." It is important to identify categories of nonviolent prisoners whose release pose no threat to society.
Fathers who have been imprisoned because of an inability to pay are perfect candidates for release. Indeed, their continued incarceration comes close to establishing a de facto debtors' prison ? an institution supposedly abolished more than 200 years ago by President Adams.
Matt Welch wrote a great feature for Reason's February issue about how the state of California couldn't really care less if you are even the dad when it's trying to crack down on "deadbeat dads." And I wrote a piece questioning the entire logic and efficacy of the federal child-support enforcement system way back in our June 1996 issue.