Business as Usual…
By Brian E. Clark
Something people may not know about me, is that I’m a Human Rights Advocate, in regards to prisoners, or inmates, if you will. What I’m ultimately referring to is the person that ends up at the defense table in a courtroom. Now that all said, I came in to doing this because I have witnessed through the years, that our Criminal Justice System is broken at its most fundamental of levels. Some, at this point, may be saying “What are you talking about? Bad people commit crimes and go to jail. The End. What’s so broken about that?” Well, that’s only a small responsibility of our Judicial system, and while we could expand on that, we’re going to take a different view of how things are today.
I had the pleasure of witnessing a Family Court Division Courtroom in full operation today, and this is where, post- divorce, and dealing with child support; be it contempt motions, or modifications, or custody issues, this is the section of the courthouse where nerves are raw, and drama is at the highest. And rightfully so, the decisions being made here are affecting families, mothers, fathers, and especially children. Now, that all said, I chose to write about this as opposed to Criminal Part A, or Part B Courts, exactly why I just said; the decisions made here, effect families. Real people, that are just trying to live their lives to the best of their abilities, and frankly, I’m not sure the court does everyone justice in these cases. But, I’ll explain, don’t worry.
Family Court is only one way I provide my advocacy services, I do criminal as well, in fact as recent as last night. But today, I found myself in Family Court, and let us keep in mind the season we are in; Christmas and the Holidays. Most of the cases called had to do with Child support, and in any given day, that is extremely typical. Sometimes one party hasn’t paid in sometime due to whatever reason, be it joblessness, or underemployment. Other times, one party is looking for more in the way of financial support, due to the change in work status with the other party. Either way, it always comes down to money. And I’ll say this: Kids cost money. I know, I have two myself. They’re not cheap. So, I get it.
Here’s what confuses the living daylights out of me though (And I saw it happen twice today), because (In these cases, the fathers were unemployed) and they could not pay their child support, due to their obvious unemployment situation, they were then incarcerated. Thrown in jail. I’m sorry, did I miss something? Because two men, did not have jobs, and therefore could not pay their child support, they were then, thrown in jail. In this case, until they could then pay, or 30 days, whichever came first. If someone is having difficulty securing employment, I’m pretty sure that throwing them in jail, may add a bump in that road. I can understand the reasoning behind incarceration for failure to pay, if there is evidence that they are just unwilling to pay. But it boggles my mind, how incarcerating someone is going to encourage someone in to paying child support. In fact, let’s leave alone the financial implications. Now, the child in question, has a father, that has been put in jail, ultimately removing a parent from that child’s life. I do not see how this can be productive in “achieving justice” for the child in question.
The second item I’d like to bring up, just because it’s been a concern of a lot of folks I’ve advocated for in cases such as this. The money that is paid in child support; that is cash money that can be spent on anything, and I do mean anything. How do we know that that money is being spent on the child it is intended for? For example: If you receive SNAP Benefits: That can only be spent on food, because that is what it is intended for. Though Child Support is free and clear cash, that has itemized list on what it can be spent on. In all reality, that money could buy cases of Scotch, and the child would never see a dime of it. What I propose is a system like the SNAP Program, where Child Support Payments that go through Child Support Enforcement, be limited to only be able be spent on items for the child. Call it far- fetched, but it’s yet another example of how the system is broken.
The examples I brought up are small, small, examples of how the system is broken in my view. You may agree or not, but that’s what makes us a great nation. But the conversation needs to be started so we can move in the direction of correcting the wrongs. I’m sure these systems were put in place with the best intentions, but there’s always someone who will exploit, and circumvent the system, and turn it in to the crooked system it is. All I ask is we begin the conversation. Thank you.