Walter Scott’s tragic death in South Carolina this last week has brought attention to a troubling reality: in South Carolina, 1 in 8 people in jail are there because they couldn’t meet their child support obligations. Because this is a civil, not a criminal, offense, this means that at least 12.5% of incarcerated people in South Carolina aren’t there because of a crime, but (almost always) because of their poverty. It also means that people are jailed without a right to counsel.
In Scott’s case, it’s widely speculated that he was running from the police officer because there was a warrant out for his arrest due to the thousands he owed in child support. He served six months in jail and several other overnight stays for falling far behind previously.
South Carolina has particularly harsh penalties in this regard: a civil contempt hearing can be triggered when payments are just five…
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