The threat of punishment is designed to promote good behavior.
Failure to pay court-ordered child support is obviously a crime that West Virginia, like all states, must address.
However, the current form of punishment — sending the offender to jail — is simply not working. In fact, in many cases, it’s making matters worse. That topic was discussed at a West Virginia Senate committee on child poverty on Wednesday.
The discussion, The Associated Press reported, is likely to lead to legislation that will have bipartisan support.
The Rev. Matthew Watts, a community leader from Charleston’s West Side, described a situation where a parent fails to pay child support, is sent to jail and loses any source of income he may have had.
Then the child has no hope of getting support.
“We just always think that punishing somebody is going to get them to change their behavior,” Watts said. “What we’re doing is we’re punishing the innocent person. We’re taking their parent away from them ... the child is already poor, right? The family doesn’t have any money and then we’re gonna literally put their mother or father in prison or in jail.”
Under West Virginia law, someone found to willfully fail to pay child support can be sentenced to jail for up to six months, or until the debt is paid, whichever comes first. In most cases, with the offender in jail and unable to work, the debt simply continues to add up.
If a debt goes unpaid for a year, failure to pay child support can become a felony, and a person is sentenced to one to three years in prison.
Sentences, according to the AP, vary widely across the country — from 45 days in North Carolina to 14 years in Idaho.
A former judge and current legislator believes the current law is unacceptable.
“I’ve sent people to the penitentiary because of that, and there’s got to be a better way,” Sen. Donald Cookman said. “We also pay to incarcerate them and take care of their children. This really needs to be rethought as quickly as it can be rethought.”
Prison reform is a major piece of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s agenda this legislative session.
The West Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday that aims to improve public safety and ease overcrowding in the state’s filled-to-capacity prisons and jails.
If incarceration is not the answer in dealing with those who fail to pay child support, what is a solution?
Watts said that those found guilty should be sentenced to home confinement instead of jail so they can look for work to pay the back child support.
“You can get furloughed to go fill out a job application. You can get furloughed to go and get a job, but until you’re back in the good graces of paying your child support payment, we’re going to restrict your movement,” Watts said.
Cookman and Sen. Corey Palumbo, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said they expect to introduce a bill that would move punishment toward home confinement and away from jail sentences.
Sen. Mike Hall, the leader of Senate Republicans, said he buys the argument presented Wednesday and would likely be supportive of the bill.
“All you’re doing is ensuring there will never be child support,” Hall said of the current law. “That’s just one of those that just doesn’t make any sense at all.”
What makes sense is a system that is firm with offenders and doesn’t sentence children to additional months or years of guaranteed poverty.
The threat of punishment is designed to promote good behavior.
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If a child is hurting, we wouldn’t hesitate to help.
Or would we?
In a five-year span, 22,830 children were victims of some type of neglect or abuse in West Virginia. That’s an overwhelming number to think about.
Gee makes major impact and earns another term as WVU president
Let’s imagine that a graduate from West Virginia University in the early 1980s, when E. Gordon Gee was president, came back to get an extra degree now and couldn’t believe that E. Gordon Gee is “still” the president of WVU.
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The concept of encouraging the purchase of American-made products is certainly not new.
On the federal level, the Buy American Act was passed in 1933 by Congress and signed by President Herbert Hoover. It required the United States government to prefer U.S.-made products in its purchases.
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In West Virginia, there is something referred to as “stop-sale technology” that prevents a person from going to more than one pharmacy to purchase over-the-counter medication that contains the active ingredient pseudoephedrine, a nasal decongestant.
It’s not an issue of stuffy noses that lawmakers were worried about when they created the system.
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Just two years ago, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese, meaning they had excess body weight based on their height.
It’s a troubling statistic, and one that health officials have worked diligently to reverse.
Cutting-edge heart procedure at Mon General is saving lives
“I used to think I wouldn’t live to be 50. Well, I made it to 50 and then some,” Pearl Walls said.
Walls is likely alive today and able to tell her story to the Times West Virginian because of a cutting-edge procedure performed at Monongalia General Hospital — a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR), which was only approved for use by the FDA in 2011.
Celebrate Dr. Seuss’ many works, magic words
You know his words.
You know them well.
Funds donated to United Way make community healthier, happier, safer place
A dollar you give to the United Way of Marion County could feed a hungry family.
That dollar could protect a woman and her children from an abuser.
Or the dollar could mean that a family receives credit counseling to lift them out of overwhelming debt.
It could fund Scouting programs, where boys and girls learn lifelong lessons.
Project Launchpad puts critical concept of diversifying state economy into play
The case for diversifying the state of West Virginia’s economy is past the point of debate.
While it is our hope that coal can continue to have a role in our nation’s power-generating matrix, we’ve learned our lesson about over-dependence on a single industry. Particularly being overly dependent on an industry that, in the eyes of federal regulators, is out of fashion.
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