The families of children in Riverside County juvenile detention went to court Monday seeking reimbursement of millions of dollars in fees their lawyers say were illegally charged.
The Western Center on Law & Poverty and the National Center for Youth Law, representing the locked-up youths’ families, filed an amended complaint in their existing lawsuit against the county, charging that although Riverside stopped collecting the administrative fees in April, that was not sufficient.
“For years, Riverside County illegally collected fees from families that could not afford to pay, which caused significant economic strain and kept families in a cycle of debt,” said Rebecca Miller, senior litigator at the nonprofit Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Our lawsuit seeks to right that wrong.”
The lawsuit claims the county didn’t follow legal requirements when it began collecting administrative fees from thousands of families for “costs of support” for each day a youth spent in a juvenile institution. For example, Riverside County allegedly failed to obtain court orders and ensure that families had the ability to pay the fees. As a result, Black, Latino and low-income families were disproportionately affected, the suit states.
Legal advocates for the youth and families also allege that the county did not provide families with required notices about their rights, the legal process or how to challenge the fees.
The lawyers say Riverside County spent more than a decade going after one set of caregivers for a youth in juvenile lockup, seeking payment of about $8,000 in fees. The grandparents, whose primary income came from Social Security, were already under financial pressure when they entered into a monthly payment plan because they were also responsible for another grandson after the boys’ mother died. The Freemans were never given a court order or advised of their rights to contest the charges, their lawyers state.
“We want to help get people their money back,” said Daniel Freeman, a named plaintiff in the case who represented all families who were caught up in the fee-collection program that the lawsuit describes as illegal because the county didn’t follow protocols in charging them. “When families make a mistake, the county doesn’t care. But when the county makes a mistake, they don’t have to do anything.”