How Behavioral Economics and Social Policy Impacts Prisoners and States
Date:  05-14-2014

Average prisoner can face $20,000 in unpaid child support when released, leading to collateral consequences for state and former inmate
MDRC announced a new report Designing Innovative Solutions for Programs Supported by the Administration for Children and Families issued by the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project.

A segment of the report, “Increasing Incarcerated Noncustodial Parents’ Applications to Modify Their Child Support Payments,” details how behavioral economics and social policy play a key role in successful reentry.

Highlights from the report follow:

“The average incarcerated noncustodial parent leaves prison with more than $20,000 in unpaid child support, which poses a serious barrier to reentering society and securing regular employment after release. Additionally, these individuals are typically unable to meet most of their monthly financial obligations because they are unlikely to have either earnings or income while in prison. This inability to make child support payments, in turn, affects the state child support agencies’ federal performance outcomes. As such, the majority of states have adjusted their laws to allow incarcerated noncustodial parents to apply for modifications to their child support orders.

The Family Initiatives Section within the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG’s) Child Support Division operates a small program, which was launched several years before the BIAS project began, that invites select incarcerated noncustodial parents to apply for a modification of their child support orders. Inmates who participate in the program can apply for the modification by mail, based on the substantial change in their financial circumstances… Despite the inmates’ apparent need for order modifications, the response rate to the OAG’s offer has been low. Only about 31 percent of incarcerated noncustodial parents who were sent letters by the OAG in spring 2011 had submitted a modification form a year later. ”

Read how behavioral economics is used to increase prisoner participation in child support modification programs here.