The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Child Support Conviction and Recidivism: A Statistical Interaction Pattern by Race

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 5:30 PM
Executive Center 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Solveig Spjeldnes, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ohio University, Athens, OH
Hide Yamatani, PhD, Associate Dean for Research, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose: Many low-income, low-skilled fathers are jailed for non-payment of child support. No national data exist regarding these offenders. Literature shows that fathers jailed for non-payment of support are poor or poorer than other inmates limiting their ability to pay child support. In 2009, noncustodial parents’ child support debt totaled $107 billion; and 80% of this debt fell to parents earning under $15,000. This study examined the question does an association exist between men jailed for non-payment of child support and their recidivism rates compared to other jailed men? From the past five years, no study of these associations was available. Informed by Critical Race Theory that suggests that institutional racism negatively affects minority people, we hypothesized that black men incarcerated for child support non-payment would have higher recidivism rates than their white counterparts.

Methods:  The sample, generated from Allegheny County Jail’s historical inmate datasets, intake survey (N=16,382), consisted of male inmates admitted in 2006. Descriptive analysis described the sample. Multinomial logistic regression method was utilized for analyzing a mixture of nominal, ordinal and interval variables, and subgroup analysis was used to investigate the differential beta weights of the predictor variables. Multivariate relationships were explored between child support conviction and recidivism by including additional predictors: race (black and white), age, education, attended 12 step meetings, requesting mental health services, and requesting drug and alcohol treatment.

Results: Men incarcerated for child support non-payment had a significantly higher rate of recidivism 53% vs. 47% than men jailed for other offenses (p<0.001). Findings based on multinomial logistic regression analysis indicated that recidivism was associated with age, education, attended 12-step meetings, requesting mental health services, and requesting drug and alcohol treatment. This relationship pattern had an interaction effect with race. As hypothesized, among fathers convicted of child support non-payment, blacks had nearly a 6% higher recidivism rate than their white counterparts (55.3% vs. 49.6%, respectively). For the black sample group, contributory predictors of recidivism were age, education, and prior attendance at 12-step meetings. After controlling for these variables, child support non-payment was still significantly associated with recidivism (p=0.001). For the white sample group, age, education, prior attendance at 12-step meetings, requesting MH services and drug and alcohol rehabilitation were associated with recidivism. After controlling for these variables, child support non-payment was not associated with recidivism (p=0.32). 

Conclusions and Implications: These findings suggest policies such as strict enforcement of obligations—including the buildup of arrearages while fathers are incarcerated and unable to pay—may be counterproductive because men facing insurmountable debts relative to their incomes may choose underground and illegal work. Offender reentry literature has reported that comprehensive reentry programs significantly increase the numbers of men (black and white) who reintegrate into society making many available to support their children. To identify strategies to raise paternal ability and willingness to pay child support, funding for policies like the Second Chance Act that supports reentry research and programs should be increased.