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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Operation Tough Love

Staying home on a Friday night and working, with occasional channel flipping or websurfing or even old fashioned just reading a book (i.e., not on a Kindle) is the tough love of my academic commuter marriage.  No wonder a segment on Dr. Phil (I swear it just happened to be on the TV when I turned it on) about the Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff’s Office’s recent “Operation Tough Love” seemed Tivo-worthy.

It turns out that on Valentine’s Day, Sheriff Joe Arpaio rounded up “deadbeat dads,” men who had failed to pay child support. The men were held on $10,000 bond in tents where the temperature reaches, according to Sheriff Arpaio, 148 degrees in the desert sun (Farenheit, I assume, as Sheriff Arpaio, who wears a tie pin shaped like a handgun and is known for making prisoners wear prison-stripes and pink underwear, doesn’t strike me as a Metric System sort of guy - he tends toward Medieval).

Local news reported that 72 people were arrested, but only 18 were deadbeat dads - the remaining 54 were arrested for other offenses, such as drugs (was this operation a pretext?).

This Very Public Event (read: spectacle, political stunt) seems like a waste of resources. It also seems counterproductive. What if Dad is deadbeat because, in our Meltdown Economy, he’s out of work? Will keeping him locked away unless he can pay really help his kids - given that this whole operation is (of course) “for the children”? I wonder why the sheriff isn’t instead out garnishing wages (if any) or seizing cars (if any) or homes (if any are even worth seizing these days)? Those methods seem more profitable.  The counter-productivity (and harshness) of Operation Tough Love is amplified when we consider that Dad could be injured in lockup by other prisoners, or from heatstroke, and that his brush with the criminal justice system could lead to job loss or stigma that harms his efforts to gain productive employment.  Consider also that the United States Supreme Court's expansive search-incident-to-arrest doctrine could lead to conviction for possessing various contraband found upon arrest, which under draconian drug laws could put the father in prison for years, rendering him truly unable to pay child support.

I Foley Admit that I don’t have the details of specific cases. Maybe these guys are notoriously deadbeat, and Sheriff Arpaio had tried all other means and failed.  But I wonder if the apparent political popularity of such roundups might cause them to become routine, leading to a de facto crime of poverty in our tough economic times - and yet another way for police to trigger their search-incident-to-arrest powers?

I don’t have a dog in this fight: I don’t have kids - another aspect, perhaps, of my own, two-city, Operation Tough Love.

H/T Dr. Phil.

Posted by Brian J. Foley on February 28, 2009 at 10:29 PM in Criminal Law, Culture, Current Affairs, Television | Permalink


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"I wonder if the apparent political popularity of such roundups might cause them to become routine, leading to a de facto crime of poverty in our tough economic times . . . "

Is there any evidence of them becoming routine? I'm not aware of any. Also, I'm curious, can an inability to pay get a person out of child support obligations, or at least trigger a resetting of the timing or amounts of the obligations? I would think so. If so, that would seem to ameliorate concerns of a "de facto crime of poverty."

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Mar 1, 2009 10:24:05 PM

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