HOKE COUNTY, N.C. — Almost 500,000 children in North Carolina depend on child support for things like clothes and roofs over their heads. Many parents are not paying up.
According to the state Division of Social Services, there are more than 200,000 deadbeat parents in the state. Combined, they owe almost $1.2 billion.
Wake and New Hanover counties use house arrest to keep those parents out of jail and at work. Now, Hoke County is considering the option.
The county's Department of Social Services says jail time will cost taxpayers more than house arrest and defeats the purpose.
"None of our judges or us like to put people in jail. If they're in jail, they're not making money and they cannot pay child support," said John Morris of the Hoke County Department of Social Services.
In Hoke County, 1,475 parents owe $7.8 million in child support. Many of them owe somewhere between $300 and $28,000. The biggest bill is $80,000.
Sheriff Hubert Peterkin supports the idea of house arrest, but wonders who will enforce it.
"If they're expecting the sheriff's office to be the one that's going to go out there and chase these people every time an alarm goes off, then we're not ready for that yet," Peterkin said.
The ultimate decision rests with county leaders and then with judges.
The Wake County Department of Social Services says it saved almost $1.7 million last year by choosing house arrest over jail time. New Hanover County saved more than $600,000.
Hoke County commissioners plan to discuss house arrest at their next meeting.