Proposed change would allow Kentucky parents to get at least $10,000 behind in child support without felony charges
Kentucky is considering a change to child support laws that could allow parents to go years without paying before it's a serious crime.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky is considering a change to child support laws that could allow parents to go years without paying before it's a serious crime.
The idea would raise the threshold for felony non-support from $1,000 or six months of arrears, to $10,000 and four to six months of non-payment.
The concept has its critics behind the judicial bench. Erica Lee Williams and Sean Delahanty, who both served as judges on the "Deadbeat" reality television show, said the new proposal may make it harder to collect back child support.
"It may help with jail overcrowding, but I'm not sure it's beneficial to those people who are due child support," Delahanty said. "Unless you have the possibility of going to jail, you can't really get these offenders' attention."
Child support is already such a contentious issue, the Jefferson County Attorney puts out a list of shame every year for parents who don't pay. The "Deadbeat" TV series placed cameras in Jefferson County child support courtrooms to watch the battles play out.
But this week, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin's prison reform work group put out a recommendation to allow non-paying parents to get further behind before it's considered a felony crime.
"I think for children this could have a negative consequence that people may not have considered when they proposed this, which is the longer this goes on, the longer a child is without," Williams said.
According to the Kentucky Justice Reinvestment Workgroup's final report, flagrant non-support is among the most common felony offenses at admission to Department of Corrections custody for both men and women. The report, which reviewed a sample of 2016 felony non-support cases, says "45 percent of offenders owed child support payments of less than $10,000 at the time of conviction, and 22 percent of offenders owed less than $5,000 at the time of conviction."
However, the judges do support the part of the plan that stops child support bills from racking up on inmates.
"Be realistic: If you are not working, you can't provide, and it just continues to put somebody in the hole," Williams said.
The child support reforms are one of 22 recommendations from the workgroup. Kentucky's prison population is on track to jump by 20 percent by 2027, costing taxpayers $600 million.
The thinking is that those who are considered "deadbeat" are not necessarily dangerous and don't belong behind bars.
"We've got to do something different," Williams said. "We can't just keep locking people up."
The workgroup's recommendation will be the backbone of prison reform bills expected in the next legislative session. Read the full report below:
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