Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

A Fatherless Father’s Day For One Family

Before I begin, for the sake of certain trolls following me…




So we are clear?  Yes?  Good.

A story was sent to me a recently.  Now by the title alone, “Erie County Prison Inmate Dies After An Asthma Attack At Work Site” from the news site “Erie News Now”, in spite of how we feel that prisoners have great health care, clearly it may not be so good.

Felix Manus was on work-release, when he suffered an asthma attack.  Needing assistance, his guards, instead of calling for an ambulance, drove Manus back to the county prison which was approximately a half an hour away.  Manus ended up on life support, and died.  Clearly, this should never have happened.  As if it were bad enough that the guards did not call for an ambulance, their drive back to the prison, it is reported that they passed two hospitals on the way.  The prisoner died because of the negligence, or ignorance of the guards in charge.

Friends and family members, rightfully so, want justice.  They are calling it murder.  People want answers and for now, the information that the county is supplying, the guards have been reprimanded already with pending further investigations.  But that is not good enough.

The reason that this story was sent to me however, is the underlying, and not discussed story about why Manus was on “work release” in the first place.

According to public records, Manus was sentenced to three months of prison, the penalty for failing to pay the purge amount (total needed to avoid prison) of $750 in child support payments.  As an advocate for parent’s rights, as I looked at the details of why he was in prison, all I could do is shake my head in disbelief, that this man paid the ultimate price, because he was unable to make a purge payment.

To understand how Manus ended up in prison, you need to understand the laws that made this situation possible.  The fact is, these laws have been around for decades.

TitleIV-Part D is a financial incentive program created decades ago, that states are able to receive funds from the federal government based on its performance on child support payments, current and arrears, enforcement, efficiency, etc.  Simply, the more a state collects child support and arrears, the more money the state gets from the federal government.

When this concept was originally created decades ago, it was because there were so many mothers who were not working.  Therefore, when parents divorced, mothers often found themselves needing to go on welfare without child support payments, and in many cases, even with.  To keep non-custodial parents current on child support, usually fathers, individual states established laws and procedures to assist or coerce them to make sure payments are made, and arrears dealt with.  Basically, TitleIV-Part D is meant to deal with “deadbeat” situations, in other words, those who intentionally refuse to pay their court ordered support.

States use any number of methods to enforce support payments including all the way up to imprisonment.  Common sense would say, “how can a person in prison make a payment?”  In fact, according to the US Constitution, article 14, a person who is too poor to pay their fine, thrown in jail, violates their constitutional right to equal protection of the 14th amendment.  And just like the term “deadbeat” is often misused and mislabeled, the description of “too poor to pay their fine” is clearly vague.  I would make the argument, that I know of no one who would be willing to go to prison, if able to pay their fine, and simply did not want to.  Which is just one thing that makes the Manus situation so difficult to understand.  Manus did not need to die as punishment, which ultimately is the price he paid for his inability to pay $750 in child support.

What is expected to happen, when a non-custodial parent is faced with a judge, and is dealing with arrears, a judge will set a “purge” amount, and it is expected that someone who has the money, will pay the purge amount to avoid prison, will do so.  In many cases, this works.  But for those who clearly do not have the money, the process fails.  Manus did not have the money, nor was he able to get the money.  So, he was sentenced to three months in prison.

Manus was not a typical inmate either.  He had asthma, a medical condition requiring treatments.  It was his inability to get the proper treatment, that cost him his life.  And the county is responsible for this.

The truth is, stories like Manus occur often.  Parents who are unable to pay, and have complicated health issues, sent to prison, unable to get proper medical help, die in prison, over child support.

States get money from the government for collecting support, that is the incentive.  The states do what they must.  But it is wrong when those actions cost a father his life, and a child their father.

Child support is very important that it gets paid.  And it is important that non-custodial parents be given opportunities to make arrangements.  But between TitleIV-Part D and aggressive vengeful custodial parents, those opportunities are often not given.  There are legitimate parents that are unable to pay, sent to prison for their debt that cannot be paid at the current time in direct violation of the 14th amendment of our US Consititution, and succumb to a medical issue that cannot be dealt with properly.

It is time for this incentive to be dealt with before anyone else dies for something less than a violent offender gets sentenced for.  But there also needs to be a way to deal with those who willfully and intentionally withhold their child support obligations and play the purge game to delay their obligations.  Innocent parents should not have to die because of real “deadbeats”.

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