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In Alameda County, a young man was incarcerated in juvenile hall for over 300 days for a homicide he did not commit. After his release, his mother discovered a $10,000 bill charging her for his imprisonment.

In Los Angeles County, three children in a single family were committed to juvenile camp, causing the family to incur more than $15,000 in legal fees. Moreover, the County levied a lean on their house, which negatively affected their credit score, and the government garnished their wages.

In Orange County, a family was forced to pay approximately $16,000, sell their home, and declare bankruptcy. In Sacramento County, a young man’s grandmother owed $25,000, an amount that was later reduced only after she was laid off and declared bankruptcy.

George Hodan

These examples of financial destruction resulted from administrative fees that youth involved in the juvenile justice system are often forced to pay. They can cause serious financial hardships to youth and their families. 

In January 2017, California State Senators Holly Mitchell (D‑Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D‑Bell Gardens) introduced Senate Bill (SB) 190, which aims to eliminate these juvenile administrative fees.

These fees can become civil judgments that subject families to additional taxation and wage garnishments, creating financial burdens for low-income families and disparately impacting families of color. Moreover, increased debt means less spending on crucial family needs such as education, health care, and other integral investments in a young person’s development and well-being.

Apart from the siphening of resources, the substandard conditions in juvenile facilities often cause families to ask what exactly they are paying for. Youth recounting their time in juvenile facilities mention hygeine products causing allergic reactions, consistently not getting enough to eat, violence in the units, and staff who readily use pepper spray. One young person said, If our parents treated us like this at home, the cops would be arresting them, and we’d be in foster care.”

As overall public safety policy, charging these fees and removing resources from families is counter-productive. In fact, a 2014 report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that persons living in poor households at or below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) (39.8 per 1,000) had more than double the rate of violent victimization as persons in high-income households (16.9 per 1,000).”

While California counties are supposed to help recover costs while taking into account a family’s ability to pay, individual experiences show that often families hit serious financial hardship even with this provision. Reductions of these burdensome legal fees associated with juvenile justice could be expected to result in reduced rates of recidivism.

If signed into law, SB 190 would be a positive development in the effort to address racial injustice and the cycle of poverty. This May, SB 190 passed through the Senate to the Assembly by an overwhelming majority vote of 36 – 4. With the the support from 12 co-sponsors and over 60 organizations, the bill continues to progress through the legislative process. 

To support this crucial juvenile justice initiative, call or email your California State representatives and urge them to support SB 190.

Related Links:

Help Abolish Regressive Juvenile Justice Fees in California

CJCJ Co-sponsored Bills Clear Senate Policy Committees

CJCJ Co-sponsors Legislation to Reform the Juvenile Justice System