C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Great War

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

The John Jay Institute and Georgia Center for Opportunity co-hosted a lecture held at Whitefield Academy in Mableton, GA, last Thursday titled “C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Great War.” The lecture was given by Dr. Joseph Loconte, an Associate Professor of History at The King’s College in New York.

In his lecture, Dr. Loconte brilliantly demonstrates how the Great War (WWI) shaped both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s outlook on the world, who were both soldiers in the war and experienced the horror of the deadliest conflict known to man up to that era. He reveals how the war’s impact can be seen in these author’s extraordinary works of literature, drawing from examples in the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings to highlight ways in which the authors weave in themes of friendship, noble sacrifice, the corruption of power, and the necessity of grace to overcome the power of evil.

Of special interest is the way in which these two men’s close friendship impacted their writing and set them apart from other writers and poets of their day, a number of whom became disillusioned by the evils they saw in the world. Lewis and Tolkien’s works provide an air of hope amid the sad reality of war and suffering, which stemmed from their belief in the redemption that is still to come.

Watch the lecture here:

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Great War – Part I

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Great War – Part II


Image credit:

http://www.gospelherald.com/articles/51973/20140721/j-r-r-tolkien-and-c-s-lewis-friendship-documented-in-new-easter-film.htm (featured image)

http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/CS_Lewis_and_JRR_Tolkien_page2 (in the post)

Why Do People Leave Prison with So Much Debt?

Stacks of Coins

This is the second entry in a series of posts highlighting GCO’s report, A High Price to Pay: Recommendations for Minimizing Debt’s Role in Driving Recidivism Rates. The first entry provided an overview of the report, as well as a recent update to one of the recommendations.

Returning citizens often face a mountain of debt upon leaving prison that makes it more difficult to successfully reenter society. Some of this debt may have existed prior to incarceration – such as consumer debt and child support – while much of it arises as a direct result of a criminal conviction, and is made much worse by subsequent incarceration and unemployment. Studies have shown average debt amounts in certain jurisdictions to be as high as $20,000 in child support arrears[i] and between $500 and $2,000 in offense-related debt.[ii] This onerous amount of debt, combined with the lack of opportunity to earn or save money while in prison, cause many offenders to reenter society with little hope of being able to repay what they owe.

Consumer Debt

It is common for people who are incarcerated to carry some level of consumer debt into prison, whether it is from outstanding mortgages, car loans, school loans, or credit cards.[iii] Missed payments on these mortgages, loans, and bills result in back interest, fees, and fines accumulating over the course of a person’s incarceration. The end result can be the offender accumulating an unmanageable amount of debt by the time he or she is released, leading him or her to file for bankruptcy.[iv]

Child Support

Child support typically comprises the largest debt returning citizens owe,[v] as non-custodial parents who are unable to modify their orders during incarceration can owe tens of thousands of dollars in arrears by the time they are released.[vi]

One study examining Massachusetts’ inmates and parolees revealed that non-custodial parents entering prison owed an average of $10,543 in unpaid child support and were likely to generate an additional $10,000 in arrears by the time they were released.[vii] More startlingly, one-fifth of the state inmates were estimated to generate arrears balances in excess of $30,000 while in prison.[viii] Another study of 350 parolees in Colorado demonstrated that they had an average balance of $16,651 in arrears.[ix]

Many returning citizens in Georgia are likely to be impacted by child support debt, as 60 percent of offenders in Georgia self-report having one or more children upon entering prison.[x] Accepting the circumstances of the incarcerated, some states allow offenders to modify their child support while in prison to avoid the accrual of arrears. However, Georgia offenders are prohibited from modifying their arrears while incarcerated, as the state deems incarceration to be a form of “voluntary unemployment.”[xi] As such, there is no mechanism for indigent offenders in Georgia to avoid accruing child support debt.

Once child support arrears have accrued, federal law requires non-custodial parents to pay the full amount owed to custodial parents, even if modification of orders is granted upon release from prison.[xii] However, federal law does permit arrears owed to the state to be forgiven retroactively. Child support arrears become owed to the state when the Department of Human Resources supplies Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to custodial parents who are not receiving requisite child support payments from non-custodial parents. Once funds are distributed, the non-custodial parent becomes obligated to repay the state for supplying the amount of assistance he or she was originally responsible for paying the custodial parent.[xiii]


Another source of debt which many returning citizens owe upon reentry is payment of restitution to victims. The amount of restitution owed by offenders usually ranges from several hundreds of dollars to several thousands of dollars, depending on the offense.[xiv] Restitution provides a way for offenders to pay for financial loss and other damages suffered by victims including lost property, medical expenses, costs of counseling, funeral and burial expenses, and lost wages.[xv] It also serves as a way for the offender and the state to demonstrate that they recognize the harm that the victim suffered and the offender’s obligation to make amends.[xvi] One study conducted in Pennsylvania found that paying restitution is related to lower recidivism.[xvii] As such, it is an important obligation for returning citizens to pay.

However, problems occur when a person’s financial status and earning capacity is not considered in forming restitution orders.[xviii] This can result in unrealistic terms of repayment being formed, which, combined with other court-imposed financial obligations, create a financial burden for the returning citizen and may discourage him or her from repaying anything at all.[xix] When this situation happens, it leaves victims without compensation for financial loss or damages and diminishes their confidence in the criminal justice system.

In Georgia, the Crime Victims Restitution Act of 2005 mandates that offenders make restitution payments to victims while under parole supervision.[xx] The court determines the amount of restitution and manner of paying it during sentencing, and parole officers are responsible for facilitating and monitoring payment compliance once the offender is in the community. Parolees must begin paying restitution upon release and are required to pay a minimum of $30 per month. [1],[xxi]

Fees, Fines, and Surcharges

A third source of debt that encumbers returning citizens is fees, fines, and surcharges that arise as a direct result of a criminal conviction.

Fees are amounts charged to offenders in exchange for the services provided by courts, probation departments, parole supervision, and other agencies.[xxii] For example, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles collects a monthly supervision fee of $30 from every parolee with a supervision period of three months or longer. [2],[xxiii]

Fines imposed by the court are intended to punish offenders and deter others from committing such crimes.[xxiv] The amount of the fine varies based on the person’s charge and can be mandatory or discretionary.[xxv] A fine for a third DUI offense in Georgia, for instance, can be as high as $5,000.[xxvi]

Finally, surcharges are add-on amounts often unrelated to the crime but used to generate revenue for criminal justice agencies.[xxvii] Revenue is designated toward such things as retirement funds for sheriffs and peace officers, law enforcement facilities and training, indigent defense programs, and education and treatment programs.[xxviii] While small in isolation, surcharges can total hundreds and even thousands of dollars.[xxix]

Georgia began collecting surcharges in 1950 when the legislature passed a statute requiring a deduction to be taken from every criminal fine to support the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund. By 2001, the number of court-imposed surcharges had risen to 21 to support nine state programs, five local programs, and the State General Fund.[xxx] Surcharges range from $0.50 per case to 50 percent of the total fine amount.[xxxi]

Inability to Earn or Save Money in Prison

A fourth reason returning citizens in Georgia have difficulty repaying debts upon release is that they do not have the ability to earn money for their work performed while incarcerated.[xxxii] As one of only three states that do not pay inmates for work,[3][xxxiii] Georgia bars those who are indigent from being able to meet current obligations, pay-down debt, or save for their inevitable reentry while in prison. This policy removes a strong incentive for them to work and develop skills and experience that will be helpful in obtaining a job upon release.


Without having a realistic plan and payment options to pay-off all of this debt, people returning from prison are less likely to pay anything at all, more likely to engage in the underground economy to avoid wage garnishment, and more likely to make bad decisions that may result in re-incarceration. The consequences of debt can be detrimental for returning citizens.



[1] Payment is required upon release for parolees serving 90 days or more under parole supervision.

[2] Parolees serving for violent offenses pay a monthly victim compensation fee of $30 in lieu of the supervision fee.

[3] Georgia inmates who participate in the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) and inmates who are placed in a transitional center are the exception, as they do have a chance to earn money while incarcerated. However, PIECP is limited to two prisons – though the state has plans to expand it to three to five more prisons – and there are only 13 transitional centers across the state serving 2,674 of 53,558 inmates . The other two states who do not pay inmates for work are Arkansas and Texas.



Some of the citations listed below are abbreviated. To view the full citation, see the “Notes” section in our report, A High Price to Pay.

[i] Nancy Thoennes, Child Support Profile: Massachusetts Incarcerated and Paroled Parents, Center for Policy Research, May 2002, 26, http://cntrpolres.qwestoffice.net/reports/profile%20of%20CS%20among%20incarcerated%20&%20paroled%20parents.pdf.

[ii] Carl Reynolds et al., A Framework to Improve How Fines, Fees, Restitution, and Child Support are Assessed and Collected from People Convicted of Crimes, Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Texas Office of Court Administration, Interim Report, March 2, 2009, 8, http://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2009-CSG-TXOCA-report.pdf.

[iii] Erica Sandberg, “Ex-offenders face big debt challenges after prison,” CreditCards.com, August 30, 2010, accessed May 8, 2014, para. 7, http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/ex-offenders-felons-prisoners-jail-in-debt-1264.php.

[iv] Connie Prater, “How to prepare financially for time in prison,” CreditCards.com, October 15, 2010, accessed March 26, 2014, para. 7, http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/how-to-prepare-inmate-financially-jail-prison-1265.php.

[v] Carl Reynolds et al., A Framework to Improve, 10.

[vi] Nancy Thoennes, Child Support Profile, 18.

[vii] Ibid., 26.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Jessica Pearson, “Building Debt While Doing Time: Child Support and Incarceration,” Judge’s Journal 43 (2004): 7; Jessica Pearson and Lanae Davis, Serving Parents Who Leave Prison: Final Report on the Work and Family Center, Center for Policy Research, 2001, ii, http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Serving%20Parents%20Who%20Leave%20Prison.pdf.

[x] Georgia Department of Corrections, Inmate Statistical Profile, 8.

[xi] Office of Child Support Enforcement, “Project to Avoid Increasing Delinquencies: ’Voluntary Unemployment,’ Imputed Income, and Modification Laws and Policies for Incarcerated Noncustodial Parents,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, July 2012, 4, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/programs/css/paid_no_4_companion.pdf; See O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(j).

[xii] Jessica Pearson, “Building Debt,” 5.

[xiii] Rachel L. McLean and Michael D. Thompson, Repaying Debts, Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2007, 26, http://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/repaying_debts_full_report-2.pdf.

[xiv] Judge Brian Amero, Henry County Superior Court, telephone conversation with author, May 29, 2014.

[xv] National Center for Victims of Crime, “Restitution Procedures,” in Promising Practices and Strategies for Victim Services in Corrections, 1997, http://www.victimsofcrime.org/library/publications/archive/promising-practices-and-strategies-for-victim-services-in-corrections; National Center for Victims of Crime, Making Restitution Real: Five Case Studies on Improving Restitution Collection, 2011, 3, 4, http://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/2011-Natl-Center-for-Victims-of-Crime-report.pdf.

[xvi] National Center for Victims of Crime, Making Restitution Real, 4.

[xvii] R. Barry Ruback, Restitution in Pennsylvania: A Multimethod Investigation, Submitted to Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Final Grant Report, August 2002, 9, 98, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Archive/221282NCJRS.pdf.

[xviii] National Institute of Justice, “Restitution,” Archived material that is the product of five regional symposia held on restorative justice between June 1997 and January 1998, accessed April 9, 2014, para. 5, http://nij.gov/topics/courts/restorative-justice/promising-practices/Pages/restitution.aspx.

[xix] Carl Reynolds et al., A Framework to Improve, 1.

[xx] Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, “Restitution,” accessed April 10, 2014, http://pap.georgia.gov/restitution.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Rachel L. McLean and Michael D. Thompson, Repaying Debts, 2; Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, “Supervision & Victim Fees,” accessed April 10, 2014, http://pap.georgia.gov/supervision-victim-fees.

[xxiii] Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, “Supervision & Victim Fees,” accessed May 12, 2014, http://pap.georgia.gov/supervision-victim-fees.

[xxiv] Paul Peterson, “Supervision Fees: State Policies and Practices,” Federal Probation 76 (2012): para. 2, http://www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/FederalCourts/PPS/Fedprob/2012-06/supervision.html.

[xxv] Rachel L. McLean and Michael D. Thompson, Repaying Debts, 2.

[xxvi] O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391.

[xxvii] Rachel L. McLean and Michael D. Thompson, Repaying Debts, 2.

[xxviii] Administrative Office of the Courts, Court Fees in Georgia – Laws and Information, Court Business and Process Improvement Program, October 2004, 5, http://www.georgiacourts.org/aoc/publications/courtfeesbook10_2004.pdf.

[xxix] Alicia Bannon, Mitali Nagrecha, and Rebekah Diller, Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, 2010, 1, http://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/Fees%20and%20Fines%20FINAL.pdf.

[xxx] Russell W. Hinton, “Court Fees,” Department of Audits and Accounts, Performance Audit Operations Division, October 2001, 1. This executive summary can be found in the following report: Administrative Office of the Courts of Georgia, Municipal Court Fee Study, November 2003, Appendix A-1, http://www.georgiacourts.org/aoc/publications/municipal_court.pdf.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Adam Crisp, “Georgia inmates strike in fight for pay,” timesfreepress.com, December 14, 2010, accessed May 20, 2014, http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2010/dec/14/georgia-inmates-strike-in-fight-for-pay/?local.

[xxxiii] Cindy Upton and Sarah Harp, Cost of Incarcerating Adult Felons, Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, Program Review and Investigations Committee, Research Report No. 373, 45, http://www.lrc.ky.gov/lrcpubs/RR373.pdf; A.J. Sabree, Strategic Planning and Implementation Consultant for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, email message to author, June 5, 2014; Peter Wagner, “Section III: The Prison Economy,” in The Prison Index: Taking the Pulse of the Crime Control Industry, Western Prison Project and the Prison Policy Initiative, April 2003, 130-131, http://www.prisonpolicy.org/prisonindex/prisonlabor.html; Adam Crisp, “Georgia inmates strike in fight for pay,” timesfreepress.com, December 14, 2010, http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2010/dec/14/georgia-inmates-strike-in-fight-for-pay/?local.


From Welfare to Opportunity

From Welfare to Opportunity - Jennifer and Randy

Georgia Center for Opportunity’s President Randy Hicks and the Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall discuss the issues of poverty and family fragmentation, as well as potential local and state solutions to combat these issues during a special luncheon hosted by GCO on April 8, 2015 at the Buckhead Club in Atlanta.

Watch the discussion here:

From Welfare to Opportunity – Part I

From Welfare to Opportunity – Part II

New Matching Gift Challenge

coins post image

We’re excited to announce that a few generous donors teamed with our board of directors to create a pool of $80,000 in matching funds. With this in effect, every donation given to GCO up to that amount or until June 30th will be instantly matched, dollar-for-dollar. That means your gift will have double the impact toward moving people from dependency to self-sufficiency.

At GCO, we believe that every person – irrespective of their economic or social class – is full of God-given potential and that cultural conditions and public policies that hinder an individual’s development are barriers to be removed. That’s why we work to remove barriers to opportunity.

We work to promote strong families, access to quality education, and steady employment – not for their own sake but for the sake of people. We want to create an environment where every individual has the opportunity to prosper.

In the end, when we’re successful, fewer Georgians will be living in a condition of dependence, a higher percentage will be enjoying earned success and the fruits of their labor, more children will be ready for college and a career, and more families will have the economic and relational resources to thrive.

I hope you will help us reach our $80,000 goal by the June 30th deadline. You can donate online now or mail a donation to Georgia Center for Opportunity, 333 Research Court, Suite 210, Norcross, GA 30092.

Debt as a Barrier to Reentry: Jonathan O’Neill’s Story

Prison, Barbed Wire

Jonathan O’Neill, a humble and soft-spoken man, is 46 years old and the father of fourteen children. He has been incarcerated since 2012 and currently resides at a transitional center where he works and takes various classes to prepare for his release that is set for Spring 2016. He is currently responsible for paying child support for seven of his children, which mostly consists of reimbursing the state for public assistance that was given to the children’s mothers. His other seven children are either grown or fully supported by their mothers.

When the time comes for Jonathan to be released, he will have as much as $45,000 in back child support, a suspended driver’s license, and the stigma of a criminal record. His story demonstrates how child support debt and its associated consequences can create significant barriers for people reentering society from prison.

The Debt Begins

Jonathan was just 19 years old when had his first run-in with the law. A joyride with a friend in a stolen car not only cost him his freedom, but also led his then girlfriend to seek Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to take care of their child. Like many incarcerated persons, Jonathan found out the hard way that he owed child support to the state as reimbursement for public assistance, and that his time behind bars did not delay responsibility to pay the state back. The 18-month prison sentence he received resulted in thousands of dollars in arrears accruing by the time he was released.

This debt made him angry and he refused to pay the state back for the public assistance given to his girlfriend.

Jonathan had his next two children with another woman. Though they lived together, this girlfriend also began receiving TANF apart from him knowing it. His child support arrears grew to $8,000 during this time because he was not paying the state for the public assistance it was providing for his children. Additionally, none of the money he spent to take care of his children while they lived together counted toward his growing child support debt because it was considered unofficial support since payments were not being made to the state as a reimbursement for public assistance. This led to a fall-out with his girlfriend and made him grow even more angry and rebellious toward the child support system over the next few years.

Jonathan explains, “I was mad at the mothers for doing this, so I neglected paying. I would take care of the children in my home, but I didn’t want to pay the state back. I had a rebellious spirit and felt like I was the father and I’m doing it how I want to.”

By the age of 27, Jonathan had five children from two mothers and over $14,000 in child support arrears. Having difficulty finding a job with his felony conviction, he began selling drugs to earn money. He was eventually caught with cocaine in 1999 and sentenced to 10 years on probation. Nine years later in 2008, he violated his conditions of probation by testing positive for marijuana, and he was sent to a Probation Detention Center (PDC) for 90 days.

A Turning Point

During his time in the PDC, Jonathan reflected upon the words a judge spoke to him in 2005: “You have so much in arrears, you will die owing the state money.” These words haunted him, and he wanted to make sure this did not prove true.

Upon release from the PDC in 2008, Jonathan became involved with a church that was located directly across the street from the PDC. It was through his involvement there that he experienced a spiritual transformation and became determined to earn an honest living. However, despite his earnest desire to find legitimate work, he struggled to find a job for eight months.

“I waited eight months and still I had no job. I got letters from the state threatening to lock me up for a whole year for non-payment of child support. I was tempted to sell drugs again. However, I chose to depend on God and He came through. I started painting at the church for no money. One day, God brought a man from the church who gave me a job at Food Lion because he was leaving.”

Jonathan gained skills as a meat cutter and worked consistently from 2009-2012 at stores such as Food Lion, Food Depot, and Piggly Wiggly, even earning employee of the quarter at his first store. During this period, he paid the full amount of his child support order each month plus a percentage of his arrears, amounting to $566 per month. He was determined to pay off his debt and make sure that he would not die owing money to the state

“I would have paid all of this debt at one time if I could,” says Jonathan, but at this point he was nowhere close to being able to do this. Instead, he paid what he could little-by-little. As a result, his hard work and determination enabled him to reduce his arrears by thousands of dollars.

Jonathan was heading down the right track.

Another Setback

In the summer of 2012, Jonathan and his fiancé were scraping by to pay the bills. Desperate for a way to earn extra cash, he discovered that he was able to win quick cash through gambling.

“I got addicted to playing gambling machines for cash money. I started losing money and got behind on rent. I didn’t want to face my children after not being able to pay, and I thought I could gamble to get the money.”

The day came when Jonathan gambled away money that he needed to pay his family’s rent. Upon losing, he panicked and snatched the money from a manager at the gambling center. For his rash actions, he was charged with robbery by snatching and was sentenced to prison for the second time.

“I’ve been in prison for two years and three months now. The state just sent me two letters for two different cases and I owe a total of $45,308 in arrears ($18,209 non-TANF arrears and $27,099 TANF arrears). It’s discouraging. I’m in prison – what do they expect me to do?”

Georgia is one of three states that does not allow inmates to earn money while working in prison, leaving him no way to pay his debt while incarcerated. However, now that he is at a transitional center, Jonathan has the ability to work, earn money, and have some earnings withheld to pay child support.

He is currently working at Arko Veal Meat Co. earning $8.50 per hour and working 26 hours per week. This work enables him to have $389 withheld from his paycheck every month to go toward paying child support.

Barriers to Reentry

While Jonathan’s time in the transitional center is helping to prepare him for reentry, he will face new challenges upon release. His home is far from the transitional center where he currently resides, which means that he will lose his present job and have to look for another one. He tried to transfer to a transitional center closer to home in order to find a job that he could keep upon release, but he was denied that opportunity. Still, he is hopeful that he will be able to get his old job back at Food Depot when the time comes to be released.

If this opportunity does not work out, his plan is to try to get a job at a different grocery store called Harvey’s. The manager at this store has hired individuals with convictions before, which gives him hope that he can work there, too. He would earn around $10 an hour as a meat cutter.

Even once Jonathan is able to secure a job, he still faces the challenge of commuting to work daily due to his suspended driver’s license. His license will only be reinstated by paying a sum that is twice the amount of his current child support order of $566, in addition to paying the normal monthly order.

“When the child support agent firmly stated that the amount I pay to get my license reinstated does not include what is coming out of my check, I hung my head. I thought, ‘Man, I can’t do this.’”

This sum of $1,698 is simply too much for him to pay while trying to pay rent, bills, and other living expenses.

Jonathan tried to arrange an agreement to make a partial payment in order to get his license back at an earlier point in time: “I told the agent, ‘Ma’am, I really need a license. Can I make a partial payment?’ She said no and told me that the judge ordered me to pay the full amount. She then said that we could get it modified, but that it would cost $300 just to go before the judge. I told her I can’t come up with it.”

He estimates that it will take him a year of full-time work at the grocery store before he will be able to pay to have his driver’s license reinstated. For now, he plans to get to work by having his fiancé, who works a full-time job as a night-shift nurse assistant, or his adult son drive him there.

Jonathan has a sincere desire to do whatever it takes to support his kids, which he demonstrated during the three years leading up to his incarceration. He simply lacks the money needed to have his license reinstated because it must go toward meeting his family’s basic living expenses.

“Having a driver’s license would not only be my way to work, but it would also help out with my duties as a husband and father around our home. My son and daughter are starting Kindergarten and Pre-K and my fiancé works from 11 pm to 8 am, so I will have to take them to school before I go to work.

For now, he is determined to make the best use of his time in the transitional center as he prepares for his reentry. He expresses an air of freedom and hope that did not exist earlier in his life, despite being encumbered by debt. He knows what it looks like to fully embrace his roles as a responsible father and citizen, and he plans to continue down this path once he is released.