counseling prisoners on child-support obligations

As Turner v. Rogers highlights, indigent child-support debtors facing incarceration are not granted the benefit of counsel in South Carolina.  Counsel here does not mean a child-support administrator offering advice to the indigent child-support debtor.  Counsel here means a lawyer certified to argue in court of law and professionally responsible for serving the interest of her or his client, the indigent child-support debtor.  To appreciate better the importance of this difference, consider a child-support obligation education program currently being offered to men prisoners in California.

On March 21, 2011, the California Department of Corrections issued a press release entitled “Child Support Obligations Education Begins for California Inmates.”  The subtitle of the press release declares: “Effort to educate inmates on their rights, intended to reduce recidivism.”  This educational effort has been designed and implemented through a partnership with the California Department of Child Support Services, the California Child Support Directors Association, El Dorado County Department of Child Support Services, Marin County Department of Child Support Services, and Solano County Department of Child Support Services.  None of the partners are organizations whose primarily mission is to uphold inmates rights.  None of the partners works with released prisoners with the primary purpose of helping released prisoners to avoid recidivism.  Can anyone really believe that the primary purpose of this child support obligation education is to “educate inmates on their rights, intended to reduce recidivism”?

The press release doesn’t waste many words before declaring a plausible primary purpose for the educational effort.  The first sentence of the press release’s text declares that the educational program’s purpose is “to inform state prison inmates of their rights under child support collection laws.” After just one more sentence, the press release declares a more plausible purpose: “Consistent payment of child support is our primary objective.”  Here’s the relevant text so you can see for yourself the full context of this verbal manipulation:

Child Support Obligations Education Begins for California Inmates

Effort to educate inmates on their rights, intended to reduce recidivism

SACRAMENTO – A unique partnership of child support organizations has resulted in a comprehensive educational effort to inform state prison inmates of their rights under child support collection laws.

Beginning this month, a video entitled, “Working with the Child Support Program: What You Need to Do” will be shown on inmate television at all 30 state male institutions, educating inmates who have active or pending child support orders on how to handle this obligation while incarcerated.

“Consistent payment of child support is our primary objective.” said Jan Sturla, Director, California Department of Child Support Services. “The child support program will work with obligors to address their child support while incarcerated. It is our objective to educate incarcerated obligors about the child support process, so they can get back on track in meeting their obligations to their children.”

Given the enormous financial burdens that the child-support system imposes on prisoners who fail to acquire and file child-support forms under tight deadlines, the educational effort sensibly emphasizes quickly filing child-support forms.[*]  Nonetheless, just like the Texas Attorney General’s counsel to incarcerated persons concerning child support, the California child-support agencies’ child support obligation education for prisoners doesn’t adequately serve prisoners’ interests.  For example, it doesn’t encourage prisoners to acquire highly certain paternity information and information about the marital status of the mother before signing a legal acknowledgement of paternity.

Child-support agencies are state agencies that administer, collect, and distribute (to non-impoverished parents) particular taxes called child support.  Child-support agencies alone are unlikely to provide the best counsel or education for child-support obligors and potential obligors.

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Note: Child support obligations education video for California male prisoners included above. Update: California has made this video private, perhaps so that the public cannot review how the state of California is manipulating prisons with respect to “child support.”

2 thoughts on “counseling prisoners on child-support obligations”

  1. My in federal jail in pa ., saids
    He has a paternalty dispute with an x-girl friend who claims he is the father, He has doubts. How can he get help when the x-girlfreind is ignoring his requests

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