Imagine you’re a dad and you have a child to support, but you have no job, and you can’t pay your bills, let alone, your child support payments.  Unlike other debt collectors, states like South Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida, Maine and Ohio will come after you, big time, and put you in jail, until you can figure out a way to support your offspring.  According to The New York Times, it is just this issue that faces the United States Supreme Court.

It that case, a South Carolina father has been jailed repeatedly for not making child supportpayments of $50 per month.  Michael Turner, the father, claims he has no money, and that poor people who are facing time behind bars for missing payments have a constitutional right to an attorney at taxpayer expense.  And he’s right.

The five states that practice locking up delinquent parents without providing them with a lawyer jail hundreds of people every year – an act that penalizes both parent and child.  It separates families, and alienates children.  And it affects the poor and the sick, because they are generally the ones who cannot afford a lawyer, and they are the ones who most of the time are not even aware of their legal rights until it’s too late.

Of course there are proponents of the law who believe it’s okay to lock up deadbeat dads, rich or poor.  They site the heavy costs that come with providing lawyers for the poor.  Proponents of the laws also say that lawyers would clog up an already cumbersome legal process and that deadbeats already control their own destinies.  But do they really?

Does a father who can’t hold down a job or who is developmentally disabled really control his own destiny when it comes to supporting himself or his offspring?  Do we still put him in prison?  And what are the costs to society then?