15th July, 2009

South Georgia Man Released From Year-long Incarceration; Jailed For Being Too Poor To Support A Child That Is Not His

ADEL, GEORGIA, July 15, 2009 – This morning, the Southern Center for Human Rights appeared in Cook County Superior Court in Adel, Georgia to request the release of Frank Hatley, a 50 year old man. Mr. Hatley has languished in jail for more than a year for being too poor to pay for the support of a child who is not his. This afternoon, Cook County Superior Court Judge Dane Perkins agreed that Mr. Hatley is indigent and ordered his release.  Mr. Hatley left the Cook County Jail at 1pm today.

Mr. Hatley has been incarcerated in the Cook County Jail since June 25, 2008 for failure to reimburse the State for public assistance paid for the support of a young man who is not his son.  Two separate paternity tests have demonstrated a 0% probability that the young man, now 20 years old, is Mr. Hatley’s son. Yet Mr. Hatley has made payments for this individual for twenty years and is incarcerated because after being laid off, he became unable to afford the payments.  

Based on the result of the first paternity test, Mr. Hatley petitioned the Cook County Superior Court in 2000 to be relieved of his child support obligations.  His request was granted and he was released from future child support obligations, however the Court insisted that he continue to pay arrears totaling $16,398.26 at a rate of $200 per month.  Mr. Hatley made substantial payments to this debt during the years preceding his incarceration, but this became impossible when he was laid off in early 2008. Though he became homeless and was living in his car, he continued to pay what he could with his unemployment benefits.  

Despite clear efforts to pay, Mr. Hatley was ordered to come to court for a contempt hearing on June 25, 2008.  He could not afford to hire a lawyer, nor was he offered a lawyer.  Mr. Hatley explained that he lost his job and that he was paying all he could pay.  There was no further inquiry by the Court.  Mr. Hatley was taken to jail where he remained until this afternoon.  Though Mr. Hatley was released today, his paternity case has not yet been resolved and will be continued in court at a later date.

“State child support officials have shown extraordinarily poor judgment in Mr. Hatley’s case,” states Sarah Geraghty, Senior Attorney at SCHR who is representing Mr. Hatley. “We call on the Attorney General to investigate the Nashville Office of Child Support Services for its unreasonable conduct in this and other cases.”

The Adel News Tribune published an article by Charles Shiver on February 4, 2009, entitled Sheriff and County Face Prisoner Overcrowding. At the time of this story, there were 140 people in the Cook County Jail jail, which is licensed to hold 125 people. Of the 140 people, one-third (32 men and 13 women) were being held for child support. The cost of incarceration is $25 per day per person.  

“Officials at the Nashville Office of Child Support Services have shown an excessive eagerness to incarcerate indigent people,” continues Attorney Geraghty.  “Not only did they ask the court to jail Mr. Hatley for no legitimate reason, they also caused taxpayers to shoulder the $10,000 burden of housing him for over a year.”

For legal documents, click here.
For additional information, contact Sara Totonchi at 404/688-1202 or stotonchi(at)schr.org

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