'Turn it around' program offers alternative to jail and equips parents to pay child support
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Deadbeat dads can't pay child support if they're behind bars. That's the mantra of an organization that puts them to work and helps them turn it around.
The "Turn it around" program transforms men from inmates into income earners and putting money in the hands of their children.
It's kind of like night school at the Hall of Justice, but the teacher is a facilitator, the classroom is actually a courtroom and the students are all men who owe thousands of dollars in back child support.
"What we want you to do is ask questions that maybe help clarify stuff for you," Facilitator Michael Foree said.
All of the men also have something else in common. They were all arrested.
Program participants Tywon Williams, Timothy Lyons and Joel Sauer were all recently arrested for failing to pay court-ordered child support.
"I'm not exactly for sure of the total that I am behind," Sauer said. "It is upwards of 10,000."
Timothy Lyons owes a lot more. "About $50,000 is what the judge told me," he said.
Instead of serving time at Metro Corrections, all three men were released and allowed to enter the TIA program.
"I took a deal for 365 with the TIA program at 365 on the shelf -- which is a year -- and if I mess up in this class I got to do a year," Williams explained.
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell says the TIA program is used as an alternative because no one pays child support from behind bars.
"This is a program that when that happens, we try to present them an opportunity instead of incarceration to participate in the TIA program of classes that are held," O'Connell said. "Our division tries to bend over backwards to get something going with that person -- short of sending it down the criminal, jail pipeline."
O'Connell says TIA is that "something" and since taking over the program in 2009, he has seen just how huge of a success it is.
"We've collected $3.8 million in child support that we can specifically attribute to the participants in the TIA program," O'Connell said.
It is paying off for the children financially, but it's not always easy in the beginning.
"Most of the guys when they come in are angry," Foree explained. "And it's all the baby's momma's fault."
Facilitator Foree says the men are allowed to vent, but the goal is to change lifestyles and attitudes.
"You may be angry at your baby's momma," Foree said. "But she's not the one that didn't pay child support."
So time in the classroom is spent explaining and teaching the men how to navigate the system.
"Making you a criminal -- especially if you have no record -- is not our goal," Foree said.
This week, lawyers from the county attorney's office are sharing information with the class.
The county attorney's office works with several local companies to find the men jobs, which is part of the program -- along with helping participants get their GED.
"It really speaks well of those employers that do this," O'Connell said.
It also really does turn things around for men who were once considered 'deadbeat dads'. O'Connell says this year's annual picnic for TIA program graduates is proof.
"It is pretty neat going to a picnic and seeing these folks where somebody had not been paying anything support or hadn't for a long time -- all of a sudden they are paying some support and they're sharing cake and ice cream with their child," O'Connell said.
Several mothers didn't want to go on camera, but tell us the program has made a huge difference in the lives of their children.
It's one thing the moms and the men can agree on.
"One thing that I have learned through this program is that I was not a good father," Timothy Lyons said.
"I don't think it was unfair," Tywon Williams said. "I am glad I am getting on the right track with this."
The program also includes women who go to class on a different night of the week, but the number of women in the program is also significantly lower.
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