California Bill to End Crippling Administrative Fees for Juveniles in the Justice System

California State Senators Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) recently introduced a bill to eliminate administrative fees across the state for young people involved in the juvenile justice system.

“These fees run counter to the overall purpose of a fair juvenile justice system,” Mitchell said. “The primary goal should always be to help juvenile offenders reenter society so they can be productive and successful.”

According to the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia-based public interest law firm, justice-involved youth and their families face various types of monetary charges ranging from court expenses, fees for participating in diversion programs, and costs for probation supervision in all 50 states. When unable to pay these costs, a young person and their family are confronted with serious consequences such as extended probation, longer placement in detention facilities, prevented expungement, and debt. Last year, the Juvenile Law Center released a national report claiming these financial penalties increase recidivism, hurt poor families, and exacerbate racial disparities.

The Policy Advocacy Clinic, associated with the School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, examined the harmful effects of these fees in California’s Alameda County. Their research contributed to bringing this issue to the attention of policymakers in the state.

“We heard a story of a grandmother who took custody of her grandson, and when she got hit with a $2,000 bill, she considered giving him back to the state because she couldn’t afford these fees,” said Stephanie Campos-Bui, clinical teaching fellow and supervising attorney at the Policy Advocacy Clinic.

At the beginning of 2017, before President Barack Obama left office, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released an advisory on the use of fines and fees in the juvenile justice system. The DOJ stressed the inability of young people to pay these costs themselves, the financial burden that is unduly placed on their families, and the far-reaching consequences that impede the rehabilitative process.

Senate Bill 190 proposes to eliminate fees imposed on California families such as the costs for transportation, food, shelter and care when a youth is held at a juvenile detention facility, the costs associated with probation supervision, home supervision, and electronic surveillance, and the costs of legal services. The bill will also cut administrative and application fees for home detention programs and drug and substance abuse testing fees.

Opponents argue these fees help counties recoup their costs. According to Campos-Bui, this is not the case since many families cannot afford to pay these costs.

“Counties are seeing very little money coming in from these fees, and the money that they do get back, it’s not like these fees are going to pay for services, they are going to fund employees who are trying to collect these fees,” said Campos-Bui.

The Policy Advocacy Clinic found that in fiscal year 2014-2015, Alameda County spent $250,938 to collect $419,830 in juvenile administrative fees, netting $168,892, a negligible amount when compared to the county’s $2.74 billion budget.

Over the last year, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties have all repealed or suspended their juvenile administrative fees. They join Los Angeles county, which issued a moratorium on fees in 2009, and San Francisco county, which has never charged fees. This bill, if passed, will end the collection and assessment of these fees in California.

The Policy Advocacy Clinic will be releasing a new study later this month that looks at the use of fees in all 58 counties in the state. This research will likely play a significant role in helping to get the bill passed as it was unsuccessful last year and held up in senate appropriations.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Public Safety Committee and is set for a hearing on Tuesday, March 21, 2017.

Brooke Pinnix is passionate about helping young people reach their full potential and has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 7 years. She is currently completing her Master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. She wrote this story for the Media for Policy Change course.

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