Prosecutor says child support amnesty event is like a 'get out of jail day'

Akron program continues Saturday at The Job Center

AKRON, Ohio - Randall Richmond has no trouble admitting he's a deadbeat father. He estimates he owes about $80,000 to his five children.

But on Friday, Richmond, 32,  took a big step toward doing the right thing. He showed up at a child support amnesty event to ask for help in setting up a payment plan.

"It's unbelievable because without a chance like this, there's no telling what would have went on. I could have been back in the penitentiary again," Richmond said.

Richmond said he's turning his life around after spending time in prison for various crimes, including a one- year sentence for non-support.

"I was proactive this time. I came to make sure I didn't get any warrants from this," Richmond said.

By noon, more than 100 people showed up for the unique program.

Hundreds more are expected for the two-day Summit County amnesty event, geared toward helping non-custodial parents address payment barriers when it comes to child support.

The program is taking place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 24 and 25 at The Job Center at 1040 E. Tallmadge Avenue in Akron.

Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said a similar event was held in 2008 with good results.

"This is like a free get out of jail day today because they can come in and turn themselves in. We will work out their warrants and we will send them back home. We are not taking people to jail on child support warrants," Bevan Walsh said.

Participants are able to:
- Reinstate their driver's license
- Resolve outstanding child support warrants
- Apply for waiver or settlement of past due child support owed to the state
- May payment arrangements for back child support
- Have genetic testing done to determine paternity

"I understand that there are social and economic reasons beyond parent' control that sometimes make them afraid to contact the child support enforcement agency to discuss their specific situation that leads to non-payment of child support. This event provides the perfect opportunity for them to do so in a non-threatening, peaceful environment where we can provide them with the tools and resources they need all in one location," Bevan Walsh said.

The Summit County Child Support enforcement agency collects nearly $86 million annually and handles more than 55,000 child support cases.

Fathers are not the only people taking advantage of the amnesty.

Jennifer Swinney, 37, owes $28,000 in child support for her two kids.

Swinney said she has been unable to pay the last couple of years due to a serious medical condition.

She learned about the amnesty program while at a recent court hearing.

"I thought it was a wonderful idea. I've texted it to other people. I thought it could be beneficial to tell them about it," Swinney said.

Michael Colbert, the director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said Ohio collects about $2 billion in child support each year while processing about one million cases.

He praised Summit County for the amnesty event.

"Think about the cost savings to the system. When an individual comes through these doors, you don't have the sheriff having to run around, trying to serve a warrant and pick them up," Colbert said.

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