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Time Is Running Out To Cash Riverside County Juvenile Fee Settlement Checks

Around 1,200 Riverside County families who paid juvenile detention fees between December 2016 and April 2020 were mailed settlement checks earlier this summer. But around 400 have yet to cash them, and time is running out.

The backstory: California families that had a child in the juvenile system used to be charged a daily fee for every day their child was in juvenile hall. California legislators banned that in 2021. But earlier this year Riverside Superior Court approved a $540,307 settlement for families who paid those fees between 2016 and April 2020. Those checks were mailed in July.

Why it matters: Rebecca Miller, a senior litigator at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the fees loomed over the families while their child was incarcerated. “This is just such an important opportunity for us to undo some of that financial stress that these fees cause” Miller said.

Why now: Families who think they’re eligible have until Nov. 11 to cash the check. There’s about $150,000 left unclaimed from the settlement. Hong Le, a senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law says she hopes all community members are able to access the money that’s owed to them. “We’ve already seen the positive impacts these repayments have had on some class members,” Le said. “Everyone who was harmed by these illegal practices deserves this refund and to be able to use this money however they choose.”

How to know if you’re eligible? Head to the settlement site or call Riverside County’s settlement administrator.

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Check’s in the mail — Riverside County residents encouraged to cash reimbursements from juvenile court fees settlement

Check’s in the mail — Riverside County residents encouraged to cash reimbursements from juvenile court fees settlement

What would you do with an extra couple hundred dollars? How about an extra thousand, or more?

These questions are a welcome reality for many Riverside County families that were recently reimbursed after being charged with illegal juvenile court fees, and they could be a life-altering reality for many more community members who are still eligible for refunds — but time is running out.

Any parent or guardian who paid juvenile detention fees to Riverside County from December 2016 to April 2020 is encouraged to check their mail for a refund check.

The reimbursements are the result of a June 2023 settlement in a class action lawsuit, Freeman v. County of Riverside, brought against the County by parents and guardians impacted by juvenile court fees. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs — representing a class of some 1,200 people — 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. The plaintiff families are represented by the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law and Poverty. 

“We sincerely hope that all community members are able to access the money that is owed back to them,” said Hong Le, senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law. “We’ve already seen the positive impacts these repayments have had on some class members. Everyone who was harmed by these illegal practices deserves this refund and to be able to use this money however they choose.”

Many checks remain uncashed

Riverside County, per the class-action settlement, agreed to pay $540,307 in refunds to class members. This came after the County agreed to stop collecting $4.1 million in outstanding juvenile detention and administrative fees following the filing of Freeman v. County of Riverside in March 2020.

More than $150,000 in reimbursement funds remain uncollected following the distribution of checks this summer. That money could be life-changing for many eligible recipients who may be unaware of their eligibility, which is why the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law and Poverty are recommending that community members check old mail they have lying around and that they encourage friends and family members who may have paid juvenile court fees to do the same.

Community members who have already cashed their checks have used the funds, among other ways, to get out of debt, to help with household bills, and to improve their living situations.

“If you think that you should have received a check, please call 833-472-1997 to see if you are eligible. The Settlement Administrator can reissue a check if it didn’t reach you. The settlement is the only case in the country where families are receiving refunds for fees charged to them when they had a child in the juvenile system. We don’t want any family to miss out on getting this money,” said Rebecca Miller, senior litigator with Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Visit here for more information about the lawsuit and settlement. Information from the Settlement Administrator can be accessed here.

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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 and 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.

Familias y jóvenes recibirán reembolsos en efectivo del Condado de Riverside luego de un acuerdo de demanda

Familias y jóvenes recibirán reembolsos en efectivo del Condado de Riverside luego de un acuerdo de demanda

Condado en el sur de California pagará $540K relacionados con multas y cuotas juveniles 

CONDADO DE RIVERSIDE, CALIF. – Patricia Segura pasó casi una década tratando de pagar una deuda de la que a veces no estaba segura de que se iba escapar.

La residente del Condado de Riverside y madre soltera de cinco hijos luchó para hacer los pagos que le dijeron que debía, lo que provocó que perdiera los reembolsos de impuestos y sufriera daño en su puntaje de crédito en el camino. Todo porque el Condado de Riverside quería que pagara miles de dólares en cuotas por el tiempo que su hijo, en ese entonces un adolescente, pasó en una colocación juvenil.

“Se sintió tan injusto,” dijo la Sra. Segura sobre la situación en la que se encontraba. “Estaba tratando de hacer lo mejor que podía por mis hijos, y el Condado me cobraba y me quitaba el dinero que necesitaba para cuidarlos.”

La familia de la Sra. Segura es uno de los 1,200 miembros de la comunidad del Condado de Riverside que ahora son eligibles para el reembolso.

El 2 de junio, un juez otorgó la aprobación definitiva de un acuerdo en una demanda colectiva, Freeman contra County of Riverside, presentada contra el Condado por padres y guardianes afectados por multas y cuotas de detención juveniles. En la demanda, los demandantes alegaron que el Condado violó la ley estatal y federal cuando cobró millones de dólares en cuotas a familias con niños en detención juvenil, pero no se aseguró de que las familias pudieran pagar las cuotas ni informar a las familias sobre su derecho a desafiar las cuotas.

Según el acuerdo, el Condado acepta pagar $540,307 en reembolsos a los miembros colectivos. Esto es después de que el Condado acordó, luego de la presentación de la demanda en marzo de 2020, dejar de cobrar $4.1 millones en cuotas administrativas y de detención de menores pendientes. Las familias demandantes están representadas por el National Center for Youth Law (traducción: el Centro Nacional para las Leyes de Menores) y el Western Center on Law and Poverty (traducción: el Centro Occidental de Leyes y Pobreza).

“La colección de estas cuotas por parte del Condado ha devastado a las familias en apuros,” dijo Michael Harris, un abogado y Director Senior de Abogacía Jurídica y Equidad en el National Center for Youth Law. “Esas familias ahora recibirán ayuda financiera, y este acuerdo pone sobre aviso a otras jurisdicciones que están evaluando y recaudando dinero ilegalmente.”

Gran victoria

El acuerdo marca una victoria significativa para las familias del Condado de Riverside, algunas de las cuales, como la Sra. Segura, se han visto atrapadas en ciclos de turbulencias financieras que duran décadas como resulto de las prácticas de colección del Condado.

Los demandantes Shirley y Daniel Freeman también fueron perseguidos por el Condado durante más de 10 años por cuotas relacionadas con el tiempo que pasó su nieto en detención juvenil.

“Shirley y yo presentamos esta demanda porque queríamos ayudar a otras familias a recibir justicia por lo que sucedió,” dijo Daniel Freeman. “Después de un largo viaje, estoy orgulloso de lo que ha logrado este caso.”

“Muchas familias en Riverside pueden dar un suspiro de alivio cuando estas cuotas juveniles injustas se eliminan y reembolsan,” dijo Rebecca Miller, abogada con el Western Center on Law and Poverty.  “Pero muchas personas en California todavía están agobiadas por deudas penales y juveniles inasequibles, aun con leyes que exigen que el gobierno considere su capacidad de pago. Las familias con bajos ingresos y las familias de color enfrentan la peor parte de esta deuda, despojando la riqueza de sus comunidades y negándoles la oportunidad de prosperar económicamente.”

La Sra. Segura dijo que estaba encantada de saber que calificaba para el reembolso cuando recibió una carta por correo.

“Espero que otras familias a las que les haya pasado lo mismo también se enteren del acuerdo y recuperen parte del dinero que pagaron,” ella dijo.

Las familias de las cuales el Condado de Riverside colectó cuotas de detención juvenil deberían haber recibido un aviso por correo sobre el acuerdo. Los padres y guardianes que creen que podrían ser miembros de la demanda colectiva con derecho a reparación en virtud del acuerdo, pero que no han recibido un aviso por correo, deben visitar el sitio del Administrador del Acuerdo en www.riversidejuvenilefees.com o llamar al (833) 472-1997.

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El National Center for Youth Law centra a los jóvenes a través de la investigación, la colaboración comunitaria, el litigo de impacto y la defensa de políticas que transforman fundamentalmente el enfoque de nuestra nación en la educación, la salud, inmigración, el cuidado de crianza y la justicia juvenil. Nuestra visión es un mundo en el que todos los niños prosperen y tengan la oportunidad plena y justa de lograr el futuro que imaginan para sí mismos. Para más información, visite http://www.youthlaw.org.

Western Center on Law and Poverty lucha en tribunales, ciudades, condados, y en el capitolio para asegurar vivienda, atención médica y una sólida red de seguridad para los Californianos con bajos ingresos, a través del lente de la justicia económica y racial. Para más información, visite www.wclp.org.

Families, youth to receive cash reimbursements from Riverside County following lawsuit settlement

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.”

Major victory

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.

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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.

PRESS RELEASE: Advocates call on Riverside County Superior Court to stop civil assessments on unresolved traffic tickets

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Riverside County’s practice of automatically adding up to $600 when a driver misses court or doesn’t pay a ticket violates state law and constitutional protections.

SAN FRANCISCO — Riverside County Superior Court is illegally adding hundreds of dollars in civil assessments to unresolved traffic tickets, according to a demand letter sent by Western Center on Law & Poverty and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Riverside County’s traffic court automatically adds multiple $300 civil assessments on to California’s already expensive traffic tickets, without considering the circumstances of individual cases as state law requires. The oversized civil assessments are an excessive fine under the state and U.S. Constitutions, adding $600 to a $50 or $100 base fine. The advocates also say the court receiving income from these fees creates a conflict of interest.

“Civil assessments are inequitable and exacerbate wealth extraction from overpoliced Black and brown communities,” said Adrienna Wong, attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “What’s more, because the money from civil assessments goes into the state Trial Court Trust Fund, courts have an interest in imposing more and larger civil assessments. Instead of doubling down on a structure that rewards courts for imposing civil assessments and deprives drivers of impartial decision makers, California could fund courts directly.”

More often than not, the failure to resolve a traffic ticket is the result of poverty, including the inability to pay and lack of access to legal assistance. Often, a driver’s failure to come to court or pay their ticket stems from transportation barriers, insufficient childcare, inflexible work schedules, disability, or homelessness.

“California’s traffic ticket system is broken,” says Rebecca Miller, a senior litigator for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Despite multiple amnesty programs and other efforts to provide relief to drivers with low incomes, there are still billions of dollars in unpaid traffic debt. Adding hundreds of dollars to unresolved traffic tickets does not make people pay their tickets; these failed policies make it harder for people to work and create more obstacles for Californians trying to pull their families out of poverty.”

Civil assessments punish those who face added barriers to payment or court appearance, thus widening inequality and disproportionately targeting people with low incomes, people of color, people with unstable housing, and people with disabilities. This is exacerbated by the economic devastation of the pandemic, which has fallen harder on Californians with low incomes and people of color.

The demand letter sent to Riverside Superior Court describes how its traffic court policies are stricter than what state law provides. For example, the traffic court only allows drivers 10 days to ask the court to excuse their non-appearance or non-payment, but state law provides 20.

Additionally, Riverside traffic court’s forms artificially restrict the reasons someone may be excused for not coming to court on a ticket by only providing check boxes for medical incapacitation/hospitalization, incarceration, and military orders.[1] State law says that a driver may be excused for “good cause” and does not limit it to those three categories.

Advocates are asking the Riverside court to stop imposing civil assessments, and to bring its policies into compliance with state and federal law. Change may also come at the state level, because the Legislature’s proposed budget would repeal civil assessments and increase direct funding to the courts.

Contact: Courtney McKinney, cmckinney[at]wclp.org

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[1] Riverside Superior Court Form # RI-OTS38 [Rev. 10/13/17].

The Fight for Fair Traffic Laws Continues in California, With Positive New Developments  

Since 2016, Western Center has been fighting to end driver’s license suspensions for people who can’t afford to pay California’s high traffic fines, or don’t have the ability or means to go to court to resolve their ticket. In a state like California, where driving is often the only option for getting to work, taking kids to school, and shopping or visiting the doctor, license suspensions have a particularly negative impact on people already experiencing poverty. Suspensions for failing to pay or appear in court for a ticket also exacerbate racial inequities, because Black and Latinx drivers are more likely to be pulled over and as a result are disproportionately impacted by license suspensions.

These types of suspensions have very little to do with keeping roads safe — state laws provide other ways to suspend driver’s licenses for reckless and dangerous driving. Failure-to-pay (FTP) and failure-to-appear (FTA) suspensions are about debt collection — coercing drivers to pay their tickets. But for Californians who can’t afford their tickets, suspensions have a perverse effect, making it harder to pay and care for their families, often leading to further fines and mounting debt, and the risk of criminal prosecution and having their vehicle impounded.

Fortunately, since 2016 we’ve made inroads to limit these non-safety related suspensions; failure-to-pay suspensions were outlawed in California in 2017, and failure-to-appear suspensions were limited by a Court of Appeal decision in June 2020.  But there is still work to do.  Most counties still use a person’s failure-to-appear in court — which is often tied to a person’s financial situation — to suspend licenses.

The California Vehicle Code allows traffic courts to send a notice to the DMV when a driver does not appear in court or pay their traffic fine by the ticket’s deadline. In turn, the DMV is required to suspend the driver’s license after one FTA notice (in some cases two, depending on the underlying violation). FTA license suspensions often result from a driver’s inability to pay their ticket by the payment deadline, or to get to court by the deadline because of transportation problems or work conflicts. See the Driving Toward Justice report for more details.

Unfortunately, some courts misuse FTA suspensions by refusing to release an FTA license suspension until a driver pays their citation in full. Other courts only allow “one-way” due process by taking advantage of FTA suspensions, but only allowing a driver to appear to plead guilty in order to lift the suspension. The harm caused by FTA suspensions is even more severe, because counties have varying and unpublished practices that make it difficult for low-income drivers to navigate and resolve their tickets, and because counties have yet to fully embrace a 2017 court rule that requires them to consider a driver’s financial circumstances when setting the fine owed.

Western Center and advocates around the state continue to fight for fair traffic laws. We regularly hear from drivers about the impact these suspensions have on their lives, including lost employment opportunities or spiraling debt that leads to a misdemeanor charge for driving on a suspended license. We encourage drivers to speak up about the real life effects of California’s failure-to-appear suspensions and share their thoughts for how the system should be reformed to meet the needs of all Californians. If you have a story you would like to share, please send me an email. Here are a few recent developments:

Issues in Marin County

In 2017, Governor Brown eliminated suspensions based on a driver’s failure to pay their ticket, but Marin County traffic court and others continued to use failure-to-appear suspensions as a collection tool in a broader way than what’s permitted by the Vehicle Code. Even after a driver appeared in court on a traffic ticket or plead guilty by filing a plea form, Marin traffic court’s policy was not to release a failure-to-appear suspension until the ticket was paid in full, which is contrary to what the vehicle code allows, and undermines the Governor/Legislature’s elimination of failure-to-pay suspensions. Essentially, Marin was using failure-to-appears as prohibited failure-to-pays to coerce drivers to pay tickets.

In February of this year, Western Center and Bay Area Legal Aid sent a letter to the Marin County Superior Court requesting it stop the practice; Marin is now agreeing to do so, though, it is unclear how the process will unfold and how they will make sure the public and impacted drivers know about the change in policy. Marin is also agreeing to review its practices to make sure it is not misusing the FTA suspension tool by asking the DMV to suspend a license after a single FTA when the Vehicle Code requires two.

This example in Marin is emblematic of problems we see statewide: traffic court procedures vary significantly county by county, and even courthouse by courthouse within a county. Variations in policies and practices are not clearly communicated to the public through the traffic court website or forms, and the lack of transparency results in traffic court practices that do not comply with the Vehicle Code or recent changes to California Rules of Court that allow drivers to ask for a reduction in their traffic fines based on their financial circumstances. The drivers that are harmed by these discrepancies are overwhelmingly low-income drivers who can’t just write a check or use a credit card when they get a ticket. We hope Marin’s traffic court will take a different approach by adopting a written policy that will be available to the public online and made clear on relevant traffic forms so drivers with low-incomes can resolve their tickets and avoid unjust license suspensions.

Other traffic courts could and should benefit from Marin’s example, using it to check their own processes to ensure compliance with the Vehicle Code. Aside from the issues Marin has agreed to address, advocates see problems in traffic courts throughout the state where drivers are not able to appear in court after the appearance date has passed on an unadjudicated ticket to clear an FTA suspension, unless they agree to plead guilty. This one-way due process is clearly illegal: either the court has already found the person guilty, in which case there should not be a failure to appear hold/suspension, or the driver should be able to appear in court to contest the ticket. Advocates also see enormous variation and questionable practice when drivers ask the court to reduce their traffic fines based on their financial circumstance. In many courts, Californians with incomes low enough to qualify them for CalFresh or Medi-Cal have their requests to reduce traffic fines rejected, despite a Judicial Council pilot project that recommends drivers receiving public benefits have their traffic fines reduced by 50%.

Hernandez v. California Department of Motor Vehicles

Hernandez v. CA DMV was filed in 2016 and challenged driver’s license suspensions when a driver did not pay their ticket or appear in court. The failure-to-pay issues were resolved in 2018 by a combination of legislative change and litigation — drivers no longer have their license suspended for unpaid traffic tickets in California. This summer, Western Center and our partners at Bay Area Legal Aid, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights SF, ACLU of Northern California, USC Gould School of Law Access to Justice Practicum, and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP won a victory in the Court of Appeal on the remaining issue regarding what type of notice a traffic court has to send the DMV to suspend a driver’s license for a failure to appear. The court sided with Western Center and our partners, finding that the traffic court has to send a notice that alleges the failure-to-appear was willful. This result will still require monitoring, since the determination of when a failure-to-appear is  “willful” may vary by judge or county. There is also concern about whether courts have adequate procedures to consider information that would suggest a failure-to-appear was not willful, including communications with drivers that they were unable to appear or pay their ticket by the deadline.

Last month, we mediated a final resolution in this case. The DMV agreed to a stipulated judgment as to how the Court of Appeal decision will be implemented, which means thousands of drivers will have their licenses reinstated, and that going forward, the DMV will not suspend a license unless the traffic court sends the required notice that the failure to appear was willful. The next step will be advocacy to make sure traffic courts have fair procedures to determine whether such a notice should be sent when a driver fails to appear because of financial, work, family or other excusable reasons.

Dismissed suspended license charges

The Court of Appeal’s June 2020 decision in Hernandez has opened the conversation about the policy wisdom of misdemeanor charges for driving on a suspended license, particularly when the underlying suspension is based on a failure-to-appear that stemmed from poverty. In the wake of the Hernandez decision, courts have dismissed charges for driving on a suspended license – some across the board and some just in cases where the suspension is based on a faulty notice, as we argued in the Court of Appeal. The next steps are to continue to challenge these suspensions (and the resultant misdemeanor charges), including litigation/administrative advocacy for how traffic courts use failure to appears, and pushing to reduce the penalties for driving on a suspended license where the suspension is based on an FTA.

 

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/.

Historic Bill Decreases Juvenile Legal Fees that Target Low Income Families of Color

“The Western Center on Law & Poverty also helped in co-sponsoring the creation of SB 1290.

Lead co-sponsor Jessica Bartholow of Western Center on Law & Poverty said, “Signing this bill will be an important step toward divesting community resources away from the carceral system and keeping those dollars in the hands of families in their communities where they are desperately needed right now.”

https://www.davisvanguard.org/2020/08/historic-bill-decreases-juvenile-legal-fees-that-target-low-income-families-of-color/

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