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Judge Wants To Keep Deadbeat Parents Out Of Jail, In The Workforce

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RALEIGH — It seems like a day does not go by that you don't hear something bad about the child support system, but one Wake County District Court judge refuses to accept those complaints. She wants to keep parents out of jail and in the workforce.

Congratulations is not a word you hear very often in a courtroom, but Wake County District Court Judge Kristin Ruth believes positive reinforcement and continued follow-up are the best ways to make deadbeat parents pay.

"There are a lot of people that we're working with in this courtroom who have an extraordinary amount of potential. As a judge, you can see that," she says.

Ruth helps parents reach their potential by trying to put them into the job market instead of putting them behind bars. When Curtis Akbar lost his job, Judge Ruth encouraged him to go back to school and learn a trade. He is now a truck driver and a paying parent.

"I'm a father and, of course, I want to pay whatever I can to support my children," he says.

Every day, Ruth brings a stack of newspapers with job listings.

"There are jobs available out there for them. When they say I can't find one, we know they're there," she says.

Carmen Carroll often sits in Judge Ruth's courtroom. She represents Working for Kids -- a program which helps deadbeat parents find jobs. Ruth refers many parents to the program.

"If a person comes in and reports to our program and is interested in finding work, they will find work," she says.

However, things are not always rosy in Ruth's courtroom -- If you don't pay, she doesn't play.

Marie Martinez has gotten little relief from the court system when it comes to the father of her children paying child support. But the day when the case came before Judge Ruth, she ordered the father of her children to pay at least $500 that day.

"It's better the way she did it because if she were just to put him in jail, he'd spend time in jail, not work and not be able to pay," she says.

House arrest is another tool Ruth uses.

"The program itself allows them to work and go to employment, yet it restricts them as to what they do in extracirricular activities," says Art Stahmer of Wake Electronic Monitoring.

As Wake County grows, so does the number of child support cases being filed at the courthouse. County attornies say it will only get worse, but they say progressive judges like Ruth are making big strides towards getting parents back on track.

"Everybody in the courtroom feels good when somebody has decided that they're going to go to work and have personal responsibility," says assistant district attorney Lisa Clary.

"What I like to see is for them to come back and say, 'Yes, I've done this and I've got a job,'" Ruth says. "I'm very proud of them because I care, the people of Wake County care, and most of all, their children care."

While Judge Ruth has led the way in implementing changes in Wake County's child support court, other judges are following suit. Clary says the house arrest program has been the single most effective tool in getting parents to pay.


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