Lessons from four projects dealing with incarceration and child support.

Author:Pearson, Jessica
 
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Authors' Note: Preparation of this article was supported by a grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to the Center for Policy Research (CPR) to disseminate information on the child support situation that incarcerated and paroled parents face Much of the underlying research was conducted by CPR pursuant to demonstration and evaluation grants awarded to child support enforcement agencies in Colorado (Grant No.90-FD-0033), Illinois (Grant No 90-FD-0057), Massachusetts (Grant No.90-FD-0049) and Texas (Grant No. 90-FD-0073) by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.

Many inmates leave prison with substantial child support obligations and arrears balances and face financial burdens and enforcement remedies that may jeopardize their successful reentry. With support from the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, and child support and criminal justice agencies, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts and Texas have conducted projects, described below, to try to address these problems. All four involved providing inmates with: general information about child support; case-specific information and actions, especially those aimed at preventing the accumulation of unpayable arrears; and help with parenting, family re-integration and employment.

Collecting Child Support from Incarcerated and Paroled Obligors Project (1999-2003). Colorado Child Support Enforcement and the Colorado Department of Corrections collaborated for an electronic data match to identify their overlapping populations and test the feasibility and time frames associated with modifying child support orders of inmates. The agencies also created the Work and Family Center, a reentry program offering paroled and released offenders with minor-aged children assistance with employment, child support and family reintegration.

Father Reintegration Project (2002-2004). The Illinois Division of Child Support Enforcement and the DOC collaborated to provide child support assistance, responsible fatherhood classes and case management services, including order modification, to 187 inmates in two adult transition centers in Chicago administered by the Safer Foundation.

Fathers in the Criminal Justice System Project (2000-2003). The Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Child Support Enforcement Division, collaborated with the DOC and the Suffolk County House of Correction to send child support workers to prisons and jails to assist 600 inmates filing modification requests for their child support orders to be $50 to $80 per month, and to take other child support actions.

Family Reintegration Project (2002-2004). The Texas Office of the Attorney General, Child Support Division, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and community-based organizations collaborated to provide 317 inmates in state jails in Houston and El Paso with general and case-specific information about child support, family re-integration classes, assistance with communicating with children and families, and referrals to community-based agencies for employment assistance.

A FEW LESSONS

The following lessons are based on evaluations of the projects conducted by the Center for Policy Research.

Inmates and released offenders say they want help with child support, parenting and employment. Of the 317 inmates who participated in the Texas Family Reintegration Project, 78 percent said they wanted help "understanding my child support situation" and/or "fixing my child support situation," 85 percent wanted help with "being a good parent," 70 percent wanted help "getting to see my children," 79 percent wanted job-skills training and 85 percent wanted help finding a job. The 10 most frequently mentioned types of aid sought by 350 paroled and released...

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