Georgia Finds Successes in it’s Problem Solving Courts

September 13, 2013

In Augusta, GA, Problem Solving Court (PSC) Coordinator Reggie Cofer received a call from the PSC judge who wanted to connect someone to the program. The individual had been in jail for contempt of court for nonpayment and basically had given up hope for a productive life. The following morning, the participant met with Cofer in his office and learned about a hiring event by an employment agency. Cofer went with the participant to the event. Before the end of the next week, the young man was working and able to start paying consistently.

While in PSC, the participant also worked with the Access and Visitation provider to improve relationships with the three custodial mothers of his children. He is seeking legitimation for his children, working, and considering a psychology or criminal law degree.

“PSC has helped me realize my potential and decide what I want to do with my life,” said the father.

PSC’s responsibility

The Georgia Child Support Problem Solving Court, also known as Parental Accountability Court, uses a problem-solving court approach to help non-custodial parents, including the father mentioned above, to overcome barriers to meeting their child support obligations. Problem solving courts focus on rehabilitation and personal responsibility. The program combines the justice system with rehabilitation services to address the barriers faced by the non-custodial parent.

The Georgia Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) has partnerships with public agencies and community groups, which provide services that address the personal barriers of the non-custodial parent. The program uses a team approach through intense monitoring, judicial oversight, and partnerships with community agencies. Participants can graduate from the program by paying child support consistently for six to twelve months and by maintaining employment and improving themselves through education.

“For most people who have jobs or who have resources, the threat of taking their driver’s license or professional license is all it takes,” said Coweta Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge John Simpson. “This is a different subset. This group of people can sit in the county jail for 100 days. They can’t borrow. They can’t get a relative or a friend to help them come up with that money.”

Achievements, one and all

PSC coordinator Frank Van Houten in Ellijay, GA, worked with a non-custodial parent who has multiple children on three different cases. The young man was over $10,000 in arrears and had no direction in his life. The coordinator saw that the father had determination to change, but he lacked the tools to break down his financial barriers. After completing the program, the young man told the judge that he feels proud that he put his children first and thanked the PSC program for teaching him life skills and showing him that no matter how high the barrier, he could achieve a positive outcome.

During the period July 1, 2012 – April 30, 2013, the program helped 313 participants in 11 problem solving courts statewide, resulting in 76 percent now paying their child support. Incarceration cost-savings to Georgia taxpayers reached $3.8 million during the same period. Additionally, 538 children are being cared for financially—the real human side to this—which has led to better lives for the people involved.

“The program works,” said David, a previously unemployed participant with three cases. “I have learned a great deal about becoming a father. Any man can be a daddy, but not a father. The Problem Solving Court has given me a second chance to do right by my children. The program has taught me how to think positively. I now have a closer relationship with my children and I’m no longer at odds with their mothers.”

Active Problem Solving Courts

Alcovy Judicial Circuit - Judge Horace J. Johnson, Jr.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit - Chief Judge Brenda S. Weaver

Atlanta Judicial Circuit - Chief Judge Cynthia D. Wright

Augusta Judicial Circuit - Judge Daniel J. Craig

Coweta Judicial Circuit - Judge John Simpson

Enotah Judicial Circuit - Chief Judge Murphy C. Miller

Flint Judicial Circuit - Judge Brian Amero

Macon Judicial Circuit - Judge Philip T. Raymond, III

Mountain Judicial Circuit - Judge B. Chan Caudell

Northeastern Judicial Circuit - Judge Bonnie Chessher Oliver

Pataula Judicial Circuit - Chief Judge Joe C. Bishop

Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit - Chief Judge Mark Anthony Scott

Towaliga Judicial Circuit - Judge William A. Fears


Pending Problem Solving Courts

Dublin Judicial Circuit - Chief Judge H. Gibbs Flanders, Jr.

Gwinnett Judicial Circuit - Judge Kathryn M. Schrader

Northern Judicial Circuit - Judge Thomas L. Hodges, III

Rockdale Judicial Circuit - Judge Robert Mumford

Southwestern Judicial Circuit - Chief Judge R. Rucker Smith

Towaliga Judicial Circuit - Judge William A. Fears