|By TAMMY FRAZIER
CAMDEN Thirteenth Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Robin Carroll has made good on a campaign promise to crack down on deadbeat parents who refuse to financially support their children. During a meeting of the Camden Noon Lions Club on Wednesday, Carroll outlined the criteria and process that initiate prosecution for failure to pay child support.
In addition to describing the new program, Carroll also briefed the audience on accomplishments of the 13th Judicial District¹s Drug Task Force.
Carroll was joined at the Lions Club meeting by 13th Judicial District Deputy Prosecutor David Scott and Trina Richmond, regional manager at the El Dorado Office of Child Support Enforcement. Members of the Camden office of the Office of Child Support Enforcement were also present, including: T.J.
Huffman, attorney, and Lions Club member; Kay Waller, staff supervisor; Minerva Daniels, investigator; and Billy Scott, attorney.
Huffman said that, in the OCSE office in Camden, there are currently 3,111 cases. Of those cases, 2,821 have court-ordered, monthly obligations established totaling $436,348. Last month, only $285,176 of that amount was collected.
The Camden office covers four of six counties in the 13th judicial district:
Ouachita, Calhoun, Dallas and Cleveland.
Carroll said that he was announcing the program Wednesday and filing the first three cases next week, one in which the defendant owes more than $37,000 in back child support.
These are categories into which a person could fall for non-payment of child
€ A person who owes between $2,500 and $10,000 can be convicted of a Class ³D² Felony and receive up to six years in prison.
€ Persons who owe $10,000 to $25,000 can be convicted of a Class ³C² felony and receive three to 10 years in prison.
€ Those who owe more than $25,000 can be convicted of a Class ³B² felony with a potential prison sentence of five to 20 years.
The prosecutor¹s office and OCSE will work together to identify the worst offenders for possible prosecution, Carroll said.
Criteria which puts a person in danger of committing one of these felonies includes the ³target² owing a large amount of court-ordered back child support while having the ability to make payments and refusing to do so.
The person also becomes a target when he or she has been processed through all other normal phases of the Office of Child Support Enforcement civil processes for collection, including contempt of court citations.
If the defendant has not responded to a warning from OCSE that the case will be referred to the deputy prosecuting attorney, OCSE will turn the case over to the prosecutor¹s office as a felony case. If the case is accepted, an arrest warrant will be issued for the defendant and will be treated as any other criminal case.
In the prosecution process, a plea may be reached for some first-time offenders and may include probation or suspended imposition of sentence and a complete or significant payoff of child support owed, Carroll said.
However, future non-payment or violation of probation will lead to the prosecutor seeking jail time.
OSCE can refer no more than five or six referral cases per month to the prosecutor¹s office, he said. This quota is based on the caseload of the deputy prosecutor assigned to these cases.
The 13th Judicial District involves six counties: Ouachita, Calhoun, Union, Dallas, Columbia and Cleveland. These counties cover 4,431 square miles and is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, Carroll said. To cover this area, there are 13 deputy prosecutors with a support staff of 25 people.
Carroll said that, while campaigning for the office of prosecuting attorney two years ago, he promised that he would enact a program to address the problem of deadbeat parents and is now implementing this new program district-wide.
Goals of the new child support regulations were listed as resulting in:
€ Accountability from the non-custodial parent.
€ Sending a message to other deadbeats that both the prosecutors office and the Office of Child Support Enforcement ³mean business.² € An increase in collections.
€ ³Making a dent in the number of kids who grow up without dads.² However, he said that the program is also targeted at helping young women make better choices about relationships and the consequences of those relationships.
³We want to send a message, not only to dads, but to young women, to make better choices,² Carroll said. ³We want young women to think before entering a relationship and ask themselves: ŒIs he going to be in my life or in the life of our child?¹² Carroll said that communities, schools and churches also need to get involved in spreading the message about accountability from both parents.
He said the goal for implementing this program is the same goal for the way his office handles any other case: ³To make sure that the right and just thing is done.² Drug Task Force accomplishments for 2007 listed by Carroll included the seizure of 64.5 pounds of marijuana, 18 marijuana plants, nearly two ounces of cocaine, 11.73 ounces of meth and 407 Ecstasy tablets. Cash seized during drug arrests totaled $128,702.88, with $93,178.97 being disbursed to local law enforcement agencies.