Families, youth to receive cash reimbursements from Riverside County following lawsuit settlement
Southern California County to repay $540K related to juvenile fees
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. — Patricia Segura spent nearly a decade attempting to repay a debt she sometimes wasn’t sure she’d ever escape from under.
The Riverside County resident and single mother of five struggled to make the payments she was told she owed, causing her to lose out on tax refunds and suffer damage to her credit score along the way. All of it because Riverside County wanted her to pay thousands of dollars in fees for time her son, then a teenager, spent in a juvenile placement.
“It felt so unfair,” Ms. Segura said of the situation she found herself in. “I was trying to do the best I could for my kids, and the County was charging me and taking away the money that I needed to care for them.”
Ms. Segura’s family is among some 1,200 Riverside County community members now eligible for reimbursement.
A judge on June 2 granted final approval of a settlement in a class action lawsuit, Freeman v. County of Riverside, brought against the County by parents and guardians impacted by juvenile fees. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged the County violated state and federal law when it charged millions of dollars in fees to families with children in juvenile detention but failed both to ensure that families were able to pay the fees and to inform families of their right to challenge the fees.
Per the settlement, the County agrees to pay $540,307 in reimbursements to class members. This is after the County agreed, following the filing of the lawsuit in March 2020, to stop collecting $4.1 million in outstanding juvenile detention and administrative fees. The plaintiff families are represented by the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
“The County’s collection of these fees has devastated struggling families,” said Michael Harris, an attorney and Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and Justice and Equity at the National Center for Youth Law. “Those families will now receive financial relief, and this settlement puts other jurisdictions who are illegally assessing and collecting money on notice.”
The settlement marks a significant victory for families in Riverside County, some of whom, like Ms. Segura, have been caught in decades-long cycles of financial turmoil as a result of the County’s collection practices.
Plaintiffs Shirley and Daniel Freeman were also pursued by the County for more than 10 years for fees related to their grandson’s time in juvenile detention.
“Shirley and I brought this lawsuit because we wanted to help other families receive justice for what happened,” said Daniel Freeman. “After a long journey, I am proud of what this case has accomplished.”
“So many families in Riverside are able to breathe a sigh of relief as these unjust juvenile fees are wiped away and reimbursed,” said Rebecca Miller, attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “But many people in California are still burdened with unaffordable criminal and juvenile debts, even with laws that require the government to consider their ability to pay. Families with low-incomes and families of color face the brunt of this debt, stripping wealth from their communities and denying them a chance to thrive economically.”
Ms. Segura said she was elated to learn she qualified for repayment when she received a letter in the mail.
“I hope other families that had the same thing happen to them will also hear about the settlement and get back some of the money they paid,” she said.
Families from whom Riverside County collected juvenile detention fees should have received a mailed notice about the settlement. Parents and guardians who believe they might be members of the class action entitled to relief under the settlement but have not received a mailed notice should visit the Settlement Administrator’s website at www.riversidejuvenilefees.com or call (833) 472-1997.
The National Center for Youth Law centers youth through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transforms our nation’s approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Our vision is a world in which every child thrives and has a full and fair opportunity to achieve the future they envision for themselves. For more information, visit www.youthlaw.org.
Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.