For a young person, arrest, juvenile court processing, secure detention, and probation supervision can be deeply stigmatizing and traumatic. Yet most counties in California also impose sizeable economic costs on young people and their families by billing them for their involvement in the justice system. Counties can charge families for their child’s legal representation, the time spent detained in a juvenile hall, and their electronic monitoring, probation supervision, or drug testing. These fees are not used for restorative justice, but serve to further penalize vulnerable youth and their families in the interest of generating revenue for counties.
The juvenile justice system in California is predicated on rehabilitation and second chances. However, juvenile administrative fees actively undermine these goals, placing substantial barriers between youth and their ability to succeed when they return home. Research has shown that fines, fees, and restitution are associated with increased rates of recidivism among young people because they divert resources away from daily needs and make it more difficult for families to provide support to a systems-impacted child.
Additionally, county “ability to pay” determinations, which are required for the lawful assessment of juvenile fees, are generally not applied rigorously or accurately. This leads to indiscriminate billing that can drive low-income families into crisis. Moreover, the high price of vigorous fee collection practices by counties often fails to recoup administrative costs. In 2015, for example, Orange County officials spent nearly 80 percent of the revenue generated through fees on fee collection efforts themselves, going to great expense to extract payment from vulnerable families.
While juvenile administrative fees represent a substantial burden for all families, research shows that these fees disparately impact families of color. This is due to the unequal and discriminatory treatment black and Latino youth experience at every stage of the juvenile justice system – from arrest, to referral, to detention. Disparate justice system involvement can lead to longer periods of detention or probation, which translates directly into higher fees and leaves families of color to bear the burden of our state’s antiquated fee system. For example, before Alameda County placed a moratorium on juvenile fees in early 2016, families of black youth on probation were charged an average of $3,438 compared to the $1,637 billed, on average, to the families of white youth.
To address this continuing injustice in California’s juvenile system, CJCJ is working with advocates and researchers across the state to co-sponsor Senate Bill (SB) 190 (Mitchell, Lara), which seeks to end the harmful assessment of juvenile administrative fees in all 58 California counties. On May 30th, the Senate passed SB 190 with 36 out of 40 members voting in support. The bill’s success in the Senate suggests strong bi-partisan interest in a reform that will advance economic justice and provide needed protections to vulnerable families. SB 190 will now move to the Assembly where it will be heard in the Committee on Public Safety on June 27th.
The purpose of the juvenile justice system is to give youth a second chance. SB 190 is an important step in ensuring that justice-involved youth and their families, often the most vulnerable families in our communities, have the resources and support they need to thrive.
This piece first appeared in the CJCJ blog