Local News

Wake House Arrest Program Paying Off For Child Support System, Taxpayers

Posted October 15, 2003 8:18 a.m. EDT

— People who do not pay child support often end up in overcrowded jails, costing taxpayers' money. When offenders are jailed, they cannot work and earn money to pay child support.

A new program in Wake County is saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and gets children the cash they need.

If Derek Simon was looking for a "get out jail free card," he was standing in front of the wrong judge.

"It's pretty egregious when no payments have come in at all," Wake District Court Judge Kristin Ruth told Simon in court.

After three months behind bars, Simon is getting out of jail, but there is a catch. He will be under house arrest when he is not working.

"You are to participate in the program and make sure your child support payments are paid. That's a priority," Ruth told Simon.

Ruth is one of the Wake County judges using house arrest to turn deadbeat parents into paying parents.

House arrest costs taxpayers $9.39 a day -- a fraction of what it costs to house someone in jail.

Ruth said the house arrest program serves two purposes.

"Number one, they're not in the jail taking up space and taxpayers' money and [they are] working to support their own children," she said.

Those ordered to house arrest must stay in the house. For those who leave the house, even to go out to the front porch or yard, the authoritieswill be notified right away.

"You can't support your child from being incarcerated," said Lawrence Evans, who is currently on house arrest.

Evans said he fell $10,000 behind in child support payments after a serious illness. The judge offered him house arrest as an alternative to jail.

"It sounded better than being locked up," he said.

Lawrence is now working two jobs and paying child support on time.

"I can still be home with my family. I can work and pay bills," he said.

This year alone, the house arrest program has saved Wake County taxpayers an estimated $1.3 million. Children benefited, as well. Last year, Wake County collected $24 million in child support, the most money ever in a single year. Seven other counties are now considering a similar program.

According to the

state Department of Correction

, 33,900 men and women are currently jailed in North Carolina. The state spends anywhere from $18, 000 to $30,000 a year on each inmate. Prisoners in minimum security are the least expensive to manage at about $50 a day. Medium-security inmates cost about $65. Maximum-security prisoners, like those in Central Prison, cost the most at about $80 a day.