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Child support surpasses $6M
Morgan beats monthly collection rates, twice
By Ben Montgomery
The Decatur Daily

Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Steve Goodwin works on a flooring project at the American Legion post. Morgan County officials credit job placement and education programs for the rise in child support payments.

Steve Goodwin hasn’t seen his children in 15 months.

Goodwin, a Morgan County jail trusty, is incarcerated for not paying child support and visits with his daughter Aliyah, 7, and son Tyler, 6, only during video calls at the jail. He is working toward the day he can be released and back with his kids again.

“It’s hard on me, but it’s equally hard on my children,” he said. “I could do all the time in the world, but it’s really about the kids. It’s not about me.”

Child-support payment collections in Morgan County are at an all-time high. Collections increased by 5.65 percent — $27,000 — in fiscal 2012 over fiscal 2011. The county has collected $6.1 million this calendar year.

According to Michael Wilhelm, supervisor of child support for Morgan County, fiscal 2012, which includes October 2011-September 2012, was the first year county collections passed $6 million. A monthly record was set in August with $587,224. That was beaten by about $24,500 in October, the first month of fiscal 2013.

Morgan County officials credit job placement and education programs for the rise. Goodwin is involved in a number of these programs, which he calls “excellent.”

Goodwin owes $13,000 in child support. Being in work-release programs helps him pay off the sum. He said he didn’t pay child support while he was in prison for other charges that were later dropped.

“The way I see it, I made mistakes that brought me to where I am,” he said. “I’m trying to fix them.”

Goodwin said the biggest hurdle program participants face is a lack of businesses willing to hire prisoners. He said some companies, such as Wayne Farms, are a big help, but the programs need more job diversity.

“I think a lot of the businesses are concerned about how long we will stay,” Goodwin said. “They need to understand that we are trying to set up careers.”

On Thursday, Goodwin and another trusty were renovating the American Legion building on U.S. 31 and hoped to be finished in time for the organization’s Christmas dinner Sunday. Goodwin, 34, has worked in construction his entire working life. He said many inmates incarcerated for not paying child support don’t fall into the “deadbeat dad” stereotype and are usually qualified workers.

The top 10 months for collections by the court have been in the four years of District Court Judge Charles Langham’s tenure. All 10 were in the past two years. The 11th-highest month, March 2008, was two months after Langham was appointed Morgan County district judge by then-Gov. Bob Riley.

Langham said offenders who are placed in jobs stay in jail for a short time while they become accustomed to a daily work routine.

“I got burned once,” he said. “I put someone in a job and let them out of jail, and they didn’t show up for their second day.”

Langham calls it a “team effort,” saying one reason the program’s success is increasing is because of a well-honed system that involves the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, Human Resources, the courthouse and even some help from Calhoun Community College.

Sheriff Ana Franklin said she makes executing arrest warrants for parents who don’t pay child support a priority.

“We’ve really tried over the last two years,” she said. “Some people are in jail for financial reasons, and the thing to realize is that we’re not trying to just throw people in jail, especially not this time of year. We’re trying to help them turn around.”

Franklin said arrests for all crimes seem to be up. Jail occupancy was 235 inmates on average when Franklin took office in 2011. It’s around 500 now.

Failure to pay child support isn’t a crime in and of itself. Instead, DHR issues orders to parents to pay child support. After multiple notices and no support paid, the parent is arrested for being in contempt of court.

Wilhelm said another explanation for the increase is more applicants. Parents who receive child support aren’t required by law to collect through DHR.

“We really recommend going through DHR,” Wilhelm said. “There are all kinds of advantages, like legal services, income tax interception and passport revocation, automated income withholding. ...”

Wilhelm said collections are up across the state.

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