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Growing popularity of Georgia's parental accountability courts

associated with the criminal justice system, especially incarceration, and actively exploring diverse alternatives to it that proponents say reduce recidivism, improve life outlooks for offenders and cost society significantly fewer dollars.

One such alternative is readily apparent in a number of Georgia counties, focusing on non-custodial parents who have fallen behind on child support payments. The program they are involved in goes by various names, centrally parental accountability court or problem-solving court, and it is a community-centered immersion in self-betterment opportunity that advocates say benefits both the participant and larger society.

Hall County officials say that incarceration costs fell by nearly $180,000 in the program's first year in that jurisdiction, with support payments growing by $45,000. That level of success in other communities, too, has a strongly salutary effect statewide, given a Georgia Department of Human Services report indicating that 40 percent of all parents paying support in the state are delinquent.

When they go to jail on contempt charges, little if nothing happens in a positive sense. Incarceration costs about $1,500 a month, and inmates obviously cannot pay while in jail, going into further arrears. When they come out, their personal situation is often worse than when they were jailed.

The accountability court focuses on education, training, employment and various life skills. Participants without high-school degrees work on GEDs. Employment agencies work with the court. Private agencies help participants with their parenting skills.

Given the overall success of the program being voiced in different areas of the state, it is likely that participation will increase as an alternative to simply locking up non-payers.

Source: Covington News, "Court to hold parents accountable," Amber Pittman, Jan. 15, 2013

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