State Division of Child Support Services Sends Indigent Iraq War Veteran to Debtor’s Prison

15th December, 2010
Southern Center for Human Rights

ROME, GEORGIA– Today, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) filed a Petition for Release From Incarceration on behalf of Randy Miller, a 39-year-old father of three and veteran of the Iraq War.  The Petition was filed in the Superior Court of Floyd County in Rome, Georgia.    

Mr. Miller, who is indigent, has been incarcerated in Floyd County since November 15, 2010 because he lost his job and did not have enough money to make complete child support payments.  Mr. Miller served in the military reserves for 14 years, was gainfully employed while not on active duty, and had an excellent child support payment history for well over a decade.  However, he lost his job in July 2009 and like many Georgians, has not been able to find full-time work.  

After he lost his job, Mr. Miller continued to try to provide support for his children, making payments when he could from temporary employment and income tax refunds.  In 2010, Mr. Miler’s financial situation became steadily worse.  He had difficulty making his mortgage payments.  Eventually, he could not even afford to keep utilities on in his home.  By October 2010, Mr. Miller lost his home to foreclosure and had exhausted his savings.  His bank account contained just 39 cents.     

On November 11, 2010, Mr. Miller finally found a new job assembling furniture and equipment.  But just four days later, on November 15, the State ordered Mr. Miller to pay $3,000 or go to jail.  Because Mr. Miller could not pay, he was sent to the Floyd County Work Release Center for 90-120 days, where he remains today.  

While at the Center, Mr. Miller works at the same job he found before the State sent him to jail.  But none of the money he has earned has been paid toward his child support debt.  Instead, the State has taken his earnings to cover the cost of “room and board” ($140 per week), parking fees ($35 per month), and drug tests ($10 per test).  Meanwhile, Mr. Miller’s child support debt continues to accrue.  

“This is a terrible way to treat a man who served his country in the military and faithfully made child support payments for well over a decade,” states Sarah Geraghty, Senior Attorney at SCHR.  “By jailing Mr. Miller and making him pay room and board fees, the State is actually depriving his children of money they would otherwise receive.”

Mr. Miller is just one of hundreds of indigent parents sitting in Georgia detention facilities because they are too poor to make full child support payments.  According to information obtained by SCHR under the Open Records Act, on any given day, there are at least 500 parents in Georgia jails who have been incarcerated solely for their inability to pay court-ordered child support.  The vast majority, like Mr. Miller, are indigent and unrepresented by counsel.

The United States Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in Turner v. Price, Case No. 10-10 (cert. granted Nov. 1, 2010), to resolve whether a state may jail an indigent child support contemnor without providing him with court-appointed counsel.  Seven federal circuit courts and fifteen state courts of last resort have held that indigent defendants in civil contempt proceedings have a right to appointed counsel if they face incarceration.

In July 2009, SCHR fought for the release of Frank Hatley, an indigent man who was jailed for 19 months in Adel, Georgia – without counsel – for being too poor to pay child support for a child who was not his son.  At the time of Mr. Hatley’s incarceration, there were 140 people in the Cook County Jail, one-third of whom were being held for inability to pay child support.  

To read the Petition for Release From Incarceration, click here

For additional information, contact Kathryn Hamoudah at 404/688-1202 or [email protected]