Fees for parents of incarcerated youth could end with proposed CA bill

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Currently, families of incarcerated youth are required to pay numerous fees to counties holding their children; however, if SB 190, which was presented to Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, is signed, these payments would be eliminated.

Families can be charged for investigation reports, drug testing, probation supervision, electronic monitoring, public defenders and their children’s detentions in juvenile hall. These fees can cost families between $513 and $6,000 per incarcerated child, according to a press release issued by State Senator Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who drafted the bill with State Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

UC Berkeley School of Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky recently wrote an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee in support of the bill, detailing how these fees can hurt families through debt, garnished wages, intercepted tax refunds and legal action. These fees disproportionately impact families of Black and Latinx children, who represent more than 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system, according to Chemerinsky.

Incarceration fees may increase the rate of youths returning to the juvenile justice system, according to a Berkeley Law report.

Additionally, according to Estevan Ginsburg, a Senate fellow in Mitchell’s office, most of the money earned through the fees is spent collecting them in the first place.

Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic, or PAC, represented a coalition of advocacy groups supporting SB 190, said PAC director Jeff Selbin. PAC looked into the fiscal impacts of juvenile justice fees on families and the state.

PAC students wrote evidence-based reports and gave recommendations to advocacy groups, including the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the bill’s lead sponsor.

The passing of SB 190 in the State Senate and Assembly was a “hard-earned victory for students,” Berkeley Law spokesperson Susan Gluss said in an email.

According to Ginsburg, what catalyzed the bill were stories from families affected by the fees. Maria Rivera, the mother of a incarcerated youth, sold her home and filed for bankruptcy when Orange County charged her over $16,000 for her son’s detention and lawyer, according to a Berkeley Law article.

Nine counties have already stopped charging some or all fees, according to Ginsburg.

Selbin said such fees “undermine both rehabilitation and safety,” which he said are the main goals of the juvenile justice system. Selbin said he believes this is why the bill passed with bipartisan support — 37-3 in the Senate and 57-9 in the Assembly.

According to Selbin, Brown has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto the bill. In the case that Brown does neither, SB 190 will pass by default.

If SB 190 becomes law, it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

Contact Matthew Lo at mlo@dailycal.org and follow him on Twitter at @matthewlo_dc.

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