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PRESS RELEASE: Western Center on Law & Poverty to Honor Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Brenda Shockley with Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award


Virtual Garden Party event will honor Shockley’s lifetime of work for equal justice, and feature a conversation with Los Angeles Times Reporter Steve Lopez & Western Center’s new Executive Director, Crystal D. Crawford

Los Angeles, CA — On Thursday, October 8th, Western Center on Law & Poverty will present Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Brenda Shockley with its Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award at the organization’s 36th annual Garden Party. The award is named for retired California appellate court justice Earl Johnson, and honors leaders who have dedicated their career to providing Californians with equal justice under the law.

Garden Party is an event highlighting Western Center’s efforts in California courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol on behalf of people experiencing poverty. Every year, Western Center honors three to five people or institutions who have made an extraordinary contribution, either through their partnership with Western Center or through their lifelong commitment to social justice.

Shockley exemplifies Western Center principles in many ways. She was named Deputy Mayor of Economic Opportunity for the City of Los Angeles in July of 2016, and appointed Chief Equity Officer in June, 2020. As a leader in the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, Shockley focuses on the prevention of homelessness and poverty through education, training, and employment that provides a living wage. Shockley’s work also addresses racial equity, workforce development, housing, and community development.

Shockley was President of Community Build for over 24 years before her appointments from Mayor Garcetti. Community Build was incorporated in 1992 in response to civil unrest, in an effort to revitalize South Los Angeles through human investment and commercial and economic development. Shockley oversaw the development of 16,000 square feet of commercial space in Leimert Park, which serves as a center for the African American community. Her work to revitalize South L.A. has led to more than $100 million of investment in education, employment and training programs. Western Center is proud to honor Deputy Mayor Shockley with the Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award for her persistent efforts to make Los Angeles a city that supports and uplifts its residents.

“Brenda is a jewel of South Los Angeles who has served the people of Los Angeles faithfully for decades,” said Crystal D. Crawford, Western Center’s new Executive Director. “She is a true freedom fighter and warrior for justice who has helped transform Los Angeles.”

Each year, Garden Party is attended by hundreds of attorneys, philanthropists, business people, legal services providers, community based partners, and many more. Though this year’s event is virtual due to the pandemic, Garden Party will again highlight contributions from individuals and organizations working on behalf of people experiencing poverty across the state.

In addition to Shockley, Garden Party honorees who will be recognized on Thursday, October 8th include Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, receiving the Max Gillam Pro Bono Award; Hope Nakamura of Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, receiving the Mary Burdick Advocates Award; Delilah L. Clay of Manatt Phelps, for her work on the Crown Act, which prevents workplace discrimination based on hair; and Anthony Robles of Youth Justice Coalition, a lead advocate in the successful movement to end juvenile justice fees in California.

The event will also feature a conversation between award-winning author and Los Angeles Times reporter, Steve Lopez, and Western Center’s new Executive Director, Crystal D. Crawford.

More information on Garden Party — how to attend and get involved — can be found here.


Suzanne Convery, Director of Development — sconvery[at]

Courtney McKinney, Director of Communications — cmckinney[at]



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.***



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.

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

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


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:

Racism fuels wildfire 

California is burning out of control, in part, because of racism toward indigenous people and practices. We can’t afford to continue this way. 

At the beginning of the month, the Trump Administration issued a memo to stop diversity training for federal agencies; the Administration called lessons about America’s history of racism “anti-American propaganda.” This week, the president came to California, where millions of acres burn out of control, in part, due to a legacy of racism.

It’s hard to hear bad things about the country you love — it’s hard to learn about all of the times this country betrayed itself to uphold systems and philosophies founded on white supremacy. It’s frustrating to learn, if you didn’t already know, that racist practices shaped this country. It’s more frustrating to see the results play out in the form of uncontrolled burning land and stifling, apocalyptic skies.

Climate change is undoubtedly playing a role in the increasing intensity of fire season, but wildfires were a part of the California landscape before our human consumption footprint got so out of control. The path away from a dystopian America is to look ourselves in the eye, see who we really are, and move forward.

The United States, California, and every other state in this country was founded via the violent removal of people who lived here first — people who held and hold the wisdom we need to survive, live, and thrive here now. For California, the first step toward healing – for the land, for our communities, and for our people — is to resurrect practices from the land’s native ancestors, those who knew that survival requires balance, communion, and stewardship.

According to reporting by the New York Times, “In recent years, momentum has built for purposefully setting fires in certain areas to help thin vegetation and restore ecosystems that would naturally burn more frequently, if not for California’s policy of more than a century requiring that all fires be put out. Before Euro-American settlement in California in the 1800s, about 1.5 million acres of forest burned each year… roughly the same amount that has burned so far this year. That aggressive fire-suppression policy came at the expense of Native American tribes, who had for thousands of years harnessed fire to help ensure that the forests where they lived were healthy — that the plants that fed them were able to flourish, that fires didn’t burn too hot and destructively.”

Both the state and federal government “historically banned tribal burning;” for more than a century California has denied native tribes the right to practice traditional controlled burn techniques, while forcibly displacing them.

We can’t afford to continue with the paradigm of constant expansion and displacement rooted in “Manifest Destiny,” a European-colonial philosophy that ignores, disrespects, and neglects centuries of learned knowledge by native people. That fatal disconnect is illustrated by communities that overturn prescriptions for controlled burns over concerns of inconvenience, only to burn from uncontrolled wildfire years later. Or continuing to build in high risk areas, and spending millions to protect homes in those places, when it would be best for the collective if the land was allowed to burn.

Instead of outrage-laced videos taking vague, unproductive jabs at climate deniers, Governor Newsom could instead take dramatic action to reprioritize indigenous people and wisdom on this land with the full weight (and resources) of the 5th largest economy in the world. He could also stop signing fracking permits and allowing the continued pollution of low-income communities across California.

Americans as a whole do not understand that racism is an insidious illness that plagues ALL of us. Though we have the most diverse country on the planet, we cling to a system founded by men who came from Europe, who did not have generations of learned wisdom about this land. Now that centuries have passed, we don’t have time for it anymore — it’s not working, and we’re choking.

In California, to move in a healthier, more sustainable and inclusive path forward, we should start with controlled burns led by native people.

Orange county ends racially discriminatory wealth extraction from thousands of families amid COVID-19 crisis


SANTA ANA – Today the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to end collection and discharge $18.5 million in fees charged to families with children in the juvenile system prior to 2018. The Board’s bipartisan vote follows closely on the heels of decisions made by San Diego, Riverside, and Stanislaus counties to end the collection of more than $55 million in outstanding juvenile fees earlier this year, citing the harm to county residents under COVID-19 and research about fees undermining rehabilitation and increasing recidivism.

“Thank you, Orange County, for your action on juvenile fees,” said Oscar Villeda, a local father who will benefit from today’s vote. “Families like mine are working hard day in and day out to pay for our basic necessities, some even working weekends so that we earn enough and can try to live a better life. The elimination of these fees is a great relief, allowing us to sleep better at night, especially in the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.”

Senate Bill 190, which went into effect on January 1, 2018, prohibited counties from charging new juvenile fees, but it did not require counties to end collection of previously assessed fees, much of which is decades old. According to the Orange County Probation Department, they will eliminate the outstanding fees immediately by filing necessary legal documents, notifying affected families, and returning any payments made after today’s decision.

“With Orange County’s action, 42 of California’s 58 counties have relieved hundreds of thousands of families of approximately $350 million in juvenile fees, which our research has shown to be regressive, racially discriminatory, and harmful to youth well-being,” said Stephanie Campos-Bui, Deputy Director of the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law.

“This decision by the county’s Board of Supervisors will be a great relief to the families carrying this tremendous burden for too long,” said Michael Harris, Senior Director, Juvenile Justice and Legal Advocacy at the National Center for Youth Law. “It was one that was disproportionately born by families of color and will help Orange County become a more equitable and just community.”

Orange County made headlines after driving a single mother to sell her home and eventually to file for bankruptcy after she was unable to pay over $16,000 in juvenile fees for her son’s public defender and his detention in a juvenile facility. Another family, featured in a May 2020 story in the Orange County Register, has struggled to pay over $8,000 that they were charged for their son’s detention nearly a decade ago. The County threatened to garnish their wages and intercept their tax return after they were unable to make a recent payment.

“After years of organizing by families, youth and community members, we are relieved to see Orange County has ended the unjust practice of doubly taxing families to fund probation and the courts,” said Crystal Anthony and Suzanne Campbell, Co-Executive Directors for Underground GRIT. “This is especially important to alleviate the burden this policy has created for our youth and families.”

Although today’s action will bring immense financial and emotional relief to Orange County families, 16 counties continue to pursue approximately $15 million in outstanding juvenile fees. Tulare County is collecting nearly three-quarters of the remaining fees statewide with a balance of almost $11 million, according to this interactive map maintained by the Berkeley researchers.

“With all the growing momentum across the state, it is time for us to pass Senate Bill 1290 and end the collection of these fees once-and-for all in California,” said Jessica Bartholow, of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. SB 1290, co-authored by Senators Maria Elena Durazo and Holly J. Mitchell, passed out of the Senate with bipartisan support and will be heard in the Assembly when the legislature reconvenes.

“These fees are harmful no matter what side of the county line you live on,” said Bartholow. “We commend the Orange County Board of Supervisors for voting to end their collection and urge the remaining counties and state to follow suit as soon as possible. California should be a national beacon of debt-free justice.”


Jessica Bartholow, Policy Advocate Western Center on Law & Poverty, (916) 282-5119, Jbartholow[at]
Michael Harris, Senior Director National Center for Youth Law, (510) 277-5452, mharris[at]
Stephanie Campos-Bui, Deputy Director Policy Advocacy Clinic, (909) 568-7410, scamposbui[at]


Virginia Is the First Southern US State to Ban Hair Discrimination in the Workplace

“Western Center on Law and Poverty is also thrilled about Virginia’s decision. Ending hair discrimination is one step toward achieving racial justice in the US, said Courtney McKinney, the center’s communications director. Hair discrimination has caused economic, social, and psychological harm to Black people in the country for decades, she explained.

“People are rising up across the world, specifically calling for this country to look its white supremacist roots in the eye in order to eradicate it,” McKinney told Global Citizen.”

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New Executive Director of Western Center On Law & Poverty named

“After a nationwide search, the Board of Directors of Western Center on Law & Poverty has chosen Crystal D. Crawford to be its next Executive Director. Crawford is currently a program director at The California Wellness Foundation, a position she has held since 2012. Crawford will be the first Black woman or woman of color to serve as the organization’s Executive Director.”

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