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PRESS RELEASE: California Abolishes Regressive and Racially Discriminatory Juvenile Legal System Fees

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SACRAMENTO— Today California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 1290 (SB 1290), a bipartisan juvenile justice reform bill that outlaws the collection of administrative fees that disproportionately extract wealth from low-income, Black and Latinx families.

Previously, local courts and probation departments across the state imposed fees on families for their child’s involvement in the juvenile system, including fees for legal representation by a public defender and daily fees for food, clothing, and health care when youth were detained in juvenile halls.

According to the bill’s co-author, Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), “The passage of SB 1290 marks the full abolition of juvenile fees in California. The harmful, costly, and frequently unlawful practice of collecting these administrative fees causes devastating and lasting harm to low-income families, while providing little net revenue for counties.”

In 2018 California ended the assessment of all new juvenile fees with the passage of Senate Bill 190, after research by the U.C. Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic documented how fees push youth further into the system and trap families in cycles of debt. Because of systemic racism throughout the juvenile system, even after controlling for underlying offense, researchers found that families of Black and Latinx youth were liable for higher fees than families of white youth.

Forty-three of California’s 58 counties had gone beyond what was previously mandated by the state and voluntarily ended collections on over $346 million in outstanding juvenile fees. The 15 remaining counties will now be required to discharge approximately $15 million in outstanding fees by the end of the year.

The passage of SB 1290 also formally ends the collection of fees for home supervision, electronic monitoring, and drug testing for young people under age 21 in the criminal system. This complements the historic passage of California’s Assembly Bill 1869, a budget trailer bill championed by Budget Chairwoman Holly J. Mitchell that abolishes 23 administrative fees in the criminal system for people of all ages. AB 1869 was signed on Friday, September 18, 2020.

Anthony Robles with the Youth Justice Coalition of Los Angeles, a co-sponsor of the bill, noted that, “While the California legal system still extracts wealth from over-policed communities through fines and restitution, we are leading the nation in fee reform by eliminating these taxes that keep low-income families and communities of color in a vicious cycle of poverty and punishment. We hope that organizers, advocates, and lawmakers across the country can use our almost decade-long grassroots campaign as an example as they fight for debt-free justice in their own communities.”

Co-sponsor Jessica Bartholow with Western Center on Law & Poverty added, “The elimination of all juvenile fees and many adult fees is an important step toward divesting community resources away from the carceral system and keeping those dollars in the hands of families and in their communities where they are desperately needed right now. Fees unjustly force communities that are targeted by racist policing and punished by a racist carceral system to directly pay for that violence against them.”

Earlier this year, Maryland similarly abolished juvenile fees and Nevada outlawed charging juvenile fees. Additional states, including Colorado, Louisiana, and Oregon, are considering taking legislative action to end this regressive and racially discriminatory practice.

“California was the first state in the nation to look at the data and acknowledge the high pain and low gain of juvenile fees,” said Stephanie Campos-Bui with the UC Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic. “It is really exciting to see the fight for debt-free justice expand into so many other states and even get attention at the federal level.”

Last spring, California Congressmember Tony Cárdenas introduced the Ending Debtor’s Prison For Kids Act (H.R. 2300), which offers funding for mental and behavioral services to states that eliminate fees associated with the juvenile justice system.

“The passage of SB 1290 in California is another step in our fight to end the cruel practice of collecting fines and fees that keep children in jail and American families in debt”, said Congressman Tony Cárdenas.  “Similar to SB 1290, my bill, Eliminating Debtor’s Prison for Kids Act (H.R. 2300), introduced in the U.S. Congress, will help states across the country, including California, end the burdensome costs, fines, and fees associated with the juvenile justice system which perpetuates this unfair cycle of juvenile incarceration. I hope other states follow California’s lead and end this harmful practice so we can focus on fostering healthier outcomes for our young people and provide all children with a second chance at a better life.”

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Contacts:

Jessica Bartholow, Western Center on Law & Poverty, (916) 282-5119, jbartholow[at]wclp.org

Anthony Robles, Youth Justice Coalition, (626) 838-9450, anthony[at]youth4justice.org

Stephanie Campos-Bui, Policy Advocacy Clinic, (909) 568-7410, scamposbui[at]law.berkeley.edu

AB 826 (Santiago) Pandemic Food Assistance Vetoed – Statement from Bill Co-Sponsors

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), California Association of Food Banks and Western Center on Law & Poverty were proud to sponsor Assembly Bill 826, introduced by Assembly Member Miguel Santiago, which would have established emergency food assistance in the form of two $600 payment cards for use at grocery stores.

During this pandemic, Assembly Bill 826 was the only bill passed by the legislature to provide food assistance for those affected by COVID-19. It was vetoed by the Governor last night.

We are disappointed in the veto and disagree on its message, which states that it would have had “General Fund impact annually.” This bill sought to provide a onetime allocation of emergency funds to prevent hunger during a pandemic.

Hunger is a persistent problem in California, but during the COVID-19 public health crisis, many more of the state’s residents are suffering with hunger for prolonged periods of time. These alarming rates of hunger have reached levels that surpass those seen during the Great Recession. Most impacted are immigrants who have lost wages from employment in the hospitality, restaurant, janitorial, hotel worker, agricultural, garment worker and food packing industries.

The loss of wages among this workforce is often a result of contracting COVID-19 in a high risk working environment with inadequate access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), caring for a family member who has contracted the virus, or losing hours or a job as a result of the stay-at-home orders. In Fact, in California, rural communities with large numbers of food-system workers, like farmworkers and meatpackers, for example, have an infection rate that is five times higher on average than comparable counties.[i] Furthermore, the Latinx community in California are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 in disproportionately high numbers:[ii]

At the height of state’s shutdown in April, approximately a quarter of Californians, 10 million people, were food insecure.[iii] Food insecurity is particularly bad among families with children. 40% of families with children 12 and under across the U.S. were food insecure in April, and in almost one in five households of mothers with children age 12 and under, children experienced food insecurity. [iv]

What’s more, according to Census Bureau data, from May 28 to June 2, 2020, Black and Hispanic or Latinx households were twice as likely as white households to report that they sometimes or often do not have enough to eat. Among households with children, 21 percent of Hispanic or Latinx respondents and 27% of Black respondents reported that they are currently experiencing hunger.[v]

The rapid increase in food insecurity among immigrant workers was also exacerbated by the unprecedented increase in food prices, [vi]  school closure, [vii] and by the closure of soup kitchens and congregate meal programs. [viii]

Federal COVID-19 relief helped Americans prevent hunger. This included increases in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Pandemic Unemployment, and CARES Act stimulus payments, 16% of which were spent in the first week to purchase food.[ix] But immigrant families have been largely locked out of this help.

Thanks to fast action by the California Department of Social Services, millions of families with children, including immigrant families ineligible for other benefits, were helped with federal Pandemic-EBT benefits, and the impact of that program to reduce hunger was well documented and significant.[x] But those resources were spent months ago, and while we are hopeful an extension to Pandemic-EBT will be enacted in the federal Continuing Resolution, there is no guarantee that it will or that the benefits will come swiftly enough to stave off hunger that will have lifelong consequences for low-income Californians.

Although California’s two million undocumented immigrants are an integral part of our society, paying taxes and risking their lives to continue performing essential services that keep California running and put food on all of our tables, there are currently no protections in place to support them should they or someone in their family lose income as a result of contracting COVID-19 or lose their job as a result of the public health orders to prevent the spread of the disease. AB 826 would have helped to counter that reality and would have reinforced to the immigrant community that they will not be forced to suffer some of the most detrimental impacts of the pandemic without help.

CHIRLA, California Association of Food Banks and Western Center are disappointed in tonight’s veto of AB 826 (Santiago) which leaves the state of California with no plan to address hunger for our immigrant communities in the weeks ahead.  We will urgently request a meeting with the Governor and his team to ask about their plan for addressing the unprecedented levels of hunger in the weeks and months ahead. We are committed to bringing this issue next year because hunger and COVID-19 will continue to impact low-income and communities of color.

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For more information, please contact:

Joseph Villela jvillela[at]chirla.org

Andrew Cheyne andrew[at]cafoodbanks.org at California Association of Food Banks

Jessica Bartholow jbartholow[at]wclp.org at Western Center on Law & Poverty

 

End Notes

[i] https://thefern.org/2020/06/covid-19-shows-no-sign-of-slowing-among-food-system-workers/

[ii] https://www.sacbee.com/news/coronavirus/article243965407.html

[iii] https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/06/pandemic-food-banks-hunger/613036/

[iv] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/05/06/the-covid-19-crisis-has-already-left-too-many-children-hungry-in-america/

[v] https://www.census.gov/householdpulsedata

[vi]  https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/05/20/food-prices-soar-coronavirus-covid-19/5226969002/

[vii] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/21/coronavirus-300-million-children-to-miss-school-meals-amid-shutdowns

[viii] https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-threatens-to-overwhelm-cities-social-safety-net-11585474200

[ix] https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahhansen/2020/04/15/how-are-americans-spending-those-1200-stimulus-checks-food-gas-and-bills/#2d5595f02e5a

[x] New America’s Report: “It has meant everything”: How P-EBT Helped Families in Michigan, https://www.newamerica.org/public-interest-technology/reports/it-has-meant-everything-how-p-ebt-helped-families-in-michigan/ ; New America/FRAC/Ed Trust Snapshot: Pandemic EBT: “It has Meant Everything”: How P-EBT Helped Families in Michigan, https://newamericadotorg.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/Two-Page_Snapshot_of_Michigans_P-EBT_Program.pdf; The Hamilton Project’s Report: The Effect of Pandemic EBT on Measures of Food Hardship, https://www.hamiltonproject.org/assets/files/P-EBT_LO_7.30.pdf

 

The Crown Act: What You Need to Know About the Fight Against Hair Discrimination

“The Crown Act stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural” and it’s a law that aims to put an end to race-based hair discrimination (aka when people lose out on work or school opportunities because of their hair texture or style). The co-founders behind the law include Dove, the National Urban League, Color of Change, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.”

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PRESS RELEASE: Lawsuit Against Riverside County Seeks Reimbursement for Families Illegally Charged with Juvenile Justice Fees

 

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

For over a decade Riverside County collected juvenile fees without following the mandated legal process, disproportionately punishing Black and Latinx families and those with low incomes.

Riverside, CA — An amended complaint was filed today against Riverside County for its failure to reimburse families that were illegally charged fees for their children involved in the juvenile justice system. In response to the plaintiffs’ demand letter and an earlier complaint in the same case, the County stopped collecting juvenile fees in April, but has not issued reimbursements for thousands of families who were wrongfully charged fees they could not afford.

“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 Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Our lawsuit seeks to right that wrong.”

The complaint alleges that the County did not follow necessary legal protocol when it charged families with fees. Before the County ended fee collection in April, it was obligated to follow a process which included obtaining a court order, and ensuring families had the ability to pay fees they were assessed.

The County did not provide families with required notices about their rights, the legal process, or how to challenge the fees. The amended complaint filed today seeks to compel the County to reimburse families for past fees since the County did not follow the required process. Riverside County’s failure to comply with its legal obligations means its collection of fees violated state statutes and the state constitution.

“We want to help get people their money back,” said Daniel Freeman, a plaintiff in the case. “When families make a mistake, the County doesn’t care. But when the County makes a mistake, they don’t have to do anything. They should have followed the rules. People really suffered because they didn’t, so they should pay that money back.”

For over ten years, Riverside County pursued Mr. Freeman and his wife, both who are over 65 and retired, for approximately $8,000 in fees related to their grandson’s involvement in the juvenile justice system, as they raised their grandsons whose mother died. The Freemans’ primary source of income was Social Security retirement. Contrary to state law, the County did not evaluate the Freemans’ ability to pay, did not provide notice of their right to contest the assessment and collection of fees, and did not obtain a court order against the Freemans. Instead, the County misled the Freemans into making monthly payments.

The Freemans are only one family of thousands from whom Riverside County pursued millions of dollars in fees using these illegal methods. Through this lawsuit, the Freemans and other plaintiffs in Riverside County seek relief for families charged with juvenile fees in violation of state law.

“The juvenile justice system is supposed to support the rehabilitation of young people, but in Riverside County, that guiding philosophy is turned on its head,” said Michael Harris, Senior Director, Legal Advocacy and Juvenile Justice at the National Center for Youth Law. “The County’s practices have had a devastating effect on families that needed help.”

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The Crown Act Banning Discrimination Against Natural Hair Was Passed By The House

“Race-based hair discrimination garnered national attention last summer when the CROWN—Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair—Coalition first set out to ban intolerance based on style, type, and texture. Cofounded by Dove, the National Urban League, Color Of Change, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the movement works to create a “more equitable and inclusive beauty experience for Black women and girls.”

Read More

 

PRESS RELEASE: Governor Signs Historic Bill Repealing Unjust Criminal Fees in California, Providing Much Needed Relief to Californians 

***Western Center is part of the Debt Free Justice Coalition, which worked to achieve the historic, first in the country victory to end state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees, resulting in the repeal of 23 criminal justice fees and expunging an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt.***

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Governor Signs Historic Bill Repealing Unjust Criminal Fees in California, Providing Much Needed Relief to Californians

SACRAMENTO, CA—Last Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1869, making California the first state in the country to repeal administrative fees in the criminal system. This historic reform will reduce the harm caused by court-imposed debt and strengthen the economic security of low-income communities of color.

AB 1869 permanently ends the assessment and collection of 23 administrative fees in the criminal system effective July 1, 2021. The bill also writes off all outstanding fee debt. The Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law estimates that AB 1869 will relieve Californians of over $16 billion in outstanding criminal fee debt, the vast majority of which is uncollectible because people cannot afford to pay.

According to Senate Budget Chair Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles): “For too long, the imposition of fees by our courts has taken away much-needed resources from people and perpetuated historic forms of racialized wealth extraction. By eliminating these criminal administrative fees, we can put money back in the pockets of Black and Latinx people and invest in the public health and safety of all communities.”

Currently, California law permits counties to charge people administrative fees related to their legal representation, probation, and incarceration. These fees often add up to thousands of dollars for a single person and pose significant barriers to reentry. Unpaid fees can be enforced via wage garnishment, bank levy, and tax refund intercept.

“As a public defender, it is painful to watch clients be saddled with fees, knowing that they won’t be able to pay,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, whose office is part of Debt Free Justice California. “The criminal legal system disrupts people’s lives and families in so many ways that adding financial penalties sets people up for failure when we should be setting them up for future success. By eliminating fees, we’re paving the way to more resilient communities.”

Angelique Evans, an organizer with A New Way of Life, shared her experience: “Almost immediately after being released from prison, Los Angeles County told me that I owed over $3,000 in administrative fees. As a mother, I wanted to prioritize taking care of my son and getting back on my feet. The fees held me back, both emotionally and financially. This bill will allow people returning home to focus on what matters most—rebuilding our families and lives.”

AB 1869 builds on years of organizing and advocacy by Debt Free Justice California. Research by the coalition shows that imposing fees on people in the criminal system is high pain because it leaves many with insurmountable debt, and low gain because counties net little, if any, revenue from these fees. Due to over-policing and racial bias in the system, the burden of fees falls disproportionately on Black and Latinx communities.

Out of concern for racial and economic justice, legality, and costs, four counties—San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Los Angeles stopped charging some discretionary fees over the last few years. AB 1869 brings debt-free justice to all Californians across the state.

Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Vice President of the Insight Center for Community and Economic Development and member of Debt Free Justice California, said: “We joined together as a coalition to think bigger, broader, and more critically about how anti-Blackness, xenophobia and sexism underpin the rules of our economy, the criminal system and policing. The imposition of criminal fees was not simply a matter of good or bad fiscal policy, but a reflection of multiple systems of entrenched racism that have led to targeted policing and over-incarceration of Black and Brown communities, consequently widening racial and gender wealth inequality.”

The passage of AB 1869 will help California begin the process of reinvesting in communities and disinvesting from our carceral system.

CONTACTS:
Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Vice President of Programs and Strategy Clinical Supervising Attorney, Insight Center for Community Economic Development, 510-466-1711, jhumpa[at]insightcced.org

Stephanie Campos-Bui, UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic, 760-349-6631, scamposbui[at]law.berkeley.edu

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Debt Free Justice California is a multi-regional, California-based coalition focused on putting a stop to the unfair ways the criminal system drains wealth from vulnerable communities. The coalition is comprised of legal advocates, policy experts, and most importantly, movement building organizations led by impacted people. For more information, visit: https://ebclc.org/cadebtjustice/about/.