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PRESS RELEASE: Broad-Based Coalition Calls On Governor To Sign Historic Bill To End Racially Discriminatory Wealth Extraction Through The Juvenile Legal System

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SACRAMENTO— The California Legislature has sent Governor Gavin Newsom Senate Bill 1290 (SB 1290), a bipartisan juvenile justice reform bill that will outlaw the collection of fees that disproportionately extract wealth from low-income, Black and Latinx families. More than 60 groups across the state have called for the Governor to sign the historic bill.

According to Senate co-author Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), “SB 1290 will end the harmful, costly, and frequently unlawful practice of collecting administrative fees from families with youth in the juvenile system and young adults. These fees cause devastating and lasting harm to low-income families, while providing little net revenue for counties.”

SB 1290 builds on the progress made by SB 190, which abolished the assessment of new juvenile fees in 2018. Forty-three counties have since forgiven more than $345 million in outstanding juvenile fees statewide. However, 15 counties continue to pursue almost $15 million from youth and their families.

“We abolished these fees because they are regressive, racially discriminatory, and deepen harm to youth,” said Senate co-author Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). “For all those reasons, counties should not be able to collect previously charged fees.”

Research by the U.C. Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic has documented how such fees push youth further into the system and trap families in cycles of debt. Because of systemic racism in the juvenile system, even after controlling for underlying offense, researchers found that families of Black and Latinx youth are liable for higher fees than families of white youth.

“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,” said lead co-sponsor Jessica Bartholow of Western Center on Law & Poverty. “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 and in their communities where they are desperately needed right now.”

“There is still work to do to eliminate these fees in the adult system, where they are equally harmful,” said co-sponsor Anthony Robles with the Youth Justice Coalition of Los Angeles. “But with the signing of SB 1290, California will lead the nation in juvenile fee reform by removing an excessive burden that keeps low-income families and communities of color in a vicious cycle of poverty and punishment.”

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

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OC agrees not to collect $18.5 million from families whose children were locked in juvenile hall

“Los Angeles County recently dissolved $89.2 million in juvenile debt, according to the Western Center on Law and Poverty. San Bernardino County forgave $16.6 million, Riverside County dissolved $4.1 million and San Diego County forgave $58.8 million, the law center said.”

OC agrees not to collect $18.5 million from families whose children were locked in juvenile hall

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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.”

CONTACTS:

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

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California Takes Another Step Toward Relieving Family Debt

“On May 19, Western Center on Law & Poverty released a statement in collaboration with Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic in response to San Diego County eliminating old juvenile fees.

…“The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to discharge more than $40 million old juvenile fees for roughly 9,100 families,” stated the release. Many of these families “live at or below the poverty line.”

https://www.davisvanguard.org/2020/05/california-take-another-step-towards-relieving-family-debt/

PRESS RELEASE: San Diego latest California county to eliminate old juvenile fees, freeing thousands of families from oppressive debt

                   

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

18 counties continue to seek payment from vulnerable families during COVID-19 – Orange and Tulare remain top holdouts still collecting almost $50 million

San Diego — Today the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to discharge more than $40 million in old juvenile fees for roughly 9,100 families – many of whom live at or below the poverty line. The Board’s decision follows closely on the heels of neighboring Riverside County’s decision to discharge $4.1 million in juvenile fee debt last month and Stanislaus County’s decision to discharge $6.9 million in juvenile fees earlier this month.

“Today our board took a long overdue step to alleviate an unjust burden on youth and families by eliminated the outdated practice of collecting overdue juvenile fees,” said San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher. “I campaigned on this issue and upon election last year starting working to bring our county out of the dark ages and into a brighter future.”

Senate Bill 190, which went into effect on January 1, 2018, prohibited counties from charging families new juvenile fees, but it did not require counties to end collection of previously assessed fees – much of which is decades old. Most counties agreed with the intent behind SB 190 – to provide relief for vulnerable families and communities – and have voluntarily discharged old fees.

“With San Diego’s action today, 40 of California’s 58 counties have stopped collecting more than $300 million in past fees, because they’ve learned from research that these fees a regressive and racially discriminatory tax on vulnerable families that undermine key goals of the justice system,” said Jeffrey Selbin, Clinical Professor of Law at UC Berkeley Law School. “Families barely making ends meet even before the current economic crisis suffer the most from these fees, which do nothing to help their kids.”

A San Diego family featured in a February story in CalMatters has been billed and harassed for years for fees charged when their son was detained in juvenile hall. The County intercepted their tax return and put a lien on their house, all for the mistakes of a child – one of six – that the family adopted from the County: “You’re almost penalized for doing…the right thing” by adopting, the father said. “It’s kind of like we’ve done everything we can possibly do for these kids and it just comes at a huge price.”

San Diego acknowledged this kind of harm in today’s resolution ending juvenile fees:

These fees impact the County of San Diego’s rehabilitative goals for youth and families, many of whom already live below the poverty line. The debt follows families well after the child’s offense and term of probation is completed, affecting their ability to invest in basic needs such as education and healthcare, or financially preparing their child for life as an adult. The long-term consequences of these outstanding debts further exacerbate conditions of poverty for not only the affected families but for their surrounding community and can lead to further unintended costs to society.

San Diego’s action will become final on June 2, 2020, but is retroactive to February 14, 2020—the date the County declared a COVID-19 State of Emergency “to provide urgent and direct financial relief to these families who are already facing unprecedented financial hardships due to the unintended consequences of the COVID-19 global pandemic.”

In spite of the momentum of dozens of California counties providing relief for families – particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, holdout counties remain. Of the 18 counties that have not discharged old fees, Orange County is still collecting $38 million and Tulare is collecting $11 million. Advocates maintain an interactive map of the counties still charging fees.

“We are ecstatic to see that after years of young people and families organizing across the state, San Diego has become the next county to end the unjust practice of collecting juvenile system fee debt,” said Anthony Robles of Youth Justice Coalition, a lead organizer on the issue in California. “With all the growing momentum across the state, it is time for us to end these fees once-and-for all in California by passing SB 1290, a bill we are co-sponsoring which will be heard in the Senate Public Safety Committee tomorrow.”

California Senate Bill 1290 seeks to eliminate juvenile fee debt altogether. In the meantime, as SB 1290 goes through the legislative process, and as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on public health and the economy, families in these holdout counties continue to be burdened by unnecessary fees.

“If passed, SB 1290 will provide substantial relief for families living in counties that have not followed the majority of counties in the state in acknowledging that these fees are bad policy with little fiscal benefit. Given the current economic crisis, families need all of their income to pay for basic needs,” said Rebecca Miller, senior litigator at Western Center on Law & Poverty, a co-sponsor of both SB 1290 and SB 190. “We hope that the hold out counties reconsider their duty to their residents and act now to discharge all remaining debt.”

Last month, more than 130 groups across the country and political spectrum called for a moratorium on all juvenile fees and fines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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PRESS RELEASE: Senators Maria Elena Durazo and Holly Mitchell introduce SB 1290 to ensure debt-free justice for all California youth

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SACRAMENTO – Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and Senator Holly Mitchell (DLos Angeles) introduced Senate Bill 1290 (SB 1290) on February 21, 2020 to end the collection of administrative fees charged to youth 21 and under in the juvenile and criminal (adult) systems.

The Legislature abolished youth fees through the bipartisan passage of Senate Bill 190 in 2018, but the bill did not prevent counties from collecting fees that were assessed prior to the ban. This new legislation will close that loophole, ending the collection of more than $136 million charged predominantly to low-income families and disproportionately to families of color.

According to Senator Durazo, “Senate Bill 1290 will require counties to stop collecting and formally discharge these regressive and discriminatory fees. Programs that are meant to serve our communities should not be funded by collecting on the debt of very poor people. Most counties have already done the right thing by voluntarily waiving these old fees. Now it is time for the state to act to end them once and for all.”

A 2019 study by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law found that 36 of 58 California counties have voluntarily ended the collection of $237 million in previously assessed juvenile fees. However, 22 counties continue to pursue more than $136 million charged to the families of system-involved youth.

“Now is the time to erase ALL outstanding debt for families who are affected by the juvenile justice system,” says Senator Mitchell. “In 2017 I introduced SB 190, ending the costly assessment and collection of juvenile administrative fees. Senator Durazo’s bill takes the law a step further to make sure families are relieved from financial burdens erasing back-owed debt. We have to change the economic and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”

Just five counties – San Diego, Orange, Riverside, Tulare, and Stanislaus – are responsible for more than 95% of all outstanding fees.

San Diego County charged Andrew Simmons more than $15,000 in fees when his adopted son got into trouble. “We love our children and work to support the intensive care that many of them needed. Unfortunately, the bill has done nothing to relieve the burden placed on us by the County and has put the security of our younger children at risk by placing a lien on our house and indicating that they may garnish our wages,” said Simmons. “Not only is this a personal challenge for us but this practice was one of the reasons people did not adopt older children with special needs. The system should not punish people for opening their homes and giving young people a chance for a family and home.”

Researchers have also found that juvenile fees generate little or no revenue for counties. According to the co-author of the Berkeley study, Stephanie Campos-Bui, “The collection of these fees nets little revenue for counties because the vast majority of families cannot afford to pay. In fact, we found that some counties were spending more to collect fees than they were generating in revenue.”

In fiscal year 2014-15, Orange County spent over $1.7 million to employ 23 individuals to collect just over $2 million in juvenile administrative fees. Since 2018, Orange County’s estimate of annual collections has dropped to $1.1 million per year. In the two years since SB 190 ended new fees assessments, Orange County has collected less than 6% of outstanding juvenile fees. Riverside County reported collecting less than 3% of outstanding fees since January 2018.

Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law & Poverty, a bill co-sponsor, notes the high pain and low gain of counties continuing to collect youth fees: “These fees were bad public policy when they were enacted decades ago and they are bad public policy now. They undermined both youth rehabilitation and public safety with little documented economic benefit to the counties, which is why the Legislature abolished them in 2018 with a large bipartisan majority. We applaud Senator Durazo and the bill co-authors for taking this final step to end the harm of outstanding fees and look forward to working with community leaders and allies to secure the bill’s passage.”

Anthony Robles, an organizer with co-sponsor Youth Justice Coalition, sees SB 1290 as just the beginning of a growing national movement for change: “Years of organizing by directly impacted communities, formerly incarcerated youth and their families, with support from advocates and partners, has led to this strengthening movement to bring debt free justice to all California families and hopefully all families across the country.”

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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

Western Center Reaction to Governor Newsom’s Proposed 2020-2021 Budget

First and foremost, Western Center is pleased that Governor Newsom’s proposed budget includes significant and innovative proposals to address the homelessness crisis in California, which will not only help the thousands of people currently experiencing homelessness, but will also prevent more people from losing their housing. We are also pleased to see the Governor take another major step toward providing health care for all by expanding Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented adults over age 65, and to see the extension of the tax ban on period products and diapers, which makes our tax code more equitable for women, girls and young families.

We were hoping to see additional investments for CalWORKs and SSI grants in this proposal, since they are both crucial for lifting Californians out of poverty. We will continue to advocate for those increases in the final budget agreement.

Below are our initial reactions to the proposed budget by issue area. We will release an in-depth analysis next week.

Housing

The proposed budget appropriately treats the state’s homelessness crisis as an emergency. The proposal devotes additional resources to help people at risk of homelessness remain stably housed and to increase both temporary shelter capacity and permanent housing options for people already experiencing homelessness. We are pleased to see the Governor’s sustained commitment to addressing homelessness and look forward to working in partnership with his administration and legislative leaders to further develop effective, sustainable solutions to the crisis that prioritize residents living in poverty.

We agree with the Governor that the state must ramp up efforts to address the state’s shortage of housing, which is primarily a shortage at lower income levels. We are eager to work with the Governor to ensure that policies and programs to speed housing production prioritize the creation of units for households with the lowest incomes who are priced out of the rental market in every county in the state, protect low-income communities and communities of color from displacement, and increase access to high opportunity areas for our clients.

Financial Security

The budget includes funding to increase the CalWORKs child support pass through (read about it here). Currently, the first $50 of child support paid by a non-custodial parent goes to the CalWORKs family, but any amount over that is kept by state and federal governments. In the Governor’s newly proposed budget, CalWORKs families with one child will keep the first $100 of child support, and families with two or more children will keep the first $200 of child support, beginning January 2022. It also includes funding to provide debt relief for child support owed to the government that is deemed uncollectable. We are grateful that the Governor has heard from parents and families in their call for a child support program that works for children, and we are eager to see proposed associated trailer bill law changes for details. We look forward to working with the Governor and legislature to achieve the goals of conforming with federal law and regulation, and ensuring the program works to benefit the children it purports to help.

The budget also includes the extension of the tax ban on period products and diapers, which will make our tax code more equitable, since taxes on period products and diapers are regressive to poor families and young people. We look forward to continuing work in the legislature to end unmet diaper need and period poverty in California.

Additionally, the budget makes a $92 million investment in reducing criminal justice fees and their harmful, recidivistic impact on people with low-incomes and people of color, their families, and their communities. We are grateful to Budget Chair Mitchell for her leadership on this issue and look forward to working on details with her, the Governor, and other budget leaders. We’re also happy to see that Californians with low incomes will soon be able to reduce the cost of their traffic fines and the overall impact of expensive traffic tickets, with this budget proposing to expand the traffic court ability-to-pay pilot program (currently operational in four counties) statewide over several years. The pilot has yet to be evaluated, so we look forward to details from the Judicial Council to see if the program’s reductions in fines and fees are adequate or need to reduced further.

Finally, to further enhance financial security for Californians, the Governor’s budget creates a new state version of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The proposed financial watchdog will hold banks and other financial firms accountable when they engage in unfair and abusive debt collection and banking practices. Medical, student loan, school lunch, and other forms of debt disproportionally burden people experiencing poverty; we expect this new agency to offer important protections for our clients.

Health Care

We applaud the Governor for continuing to move toward universal coverage by making California the first in the nation to expand full-scope Medi-Cal to all income-eligible seniors regardless of immigration status, taking a whole person approach to Medi-Cal, and cost containment with an eye toward quality and equity. We look forward to working with the administration and legislature to advance a budget that ensures equitable access to affordable, comprehensive, quality health care for poor Californians.

The Governor’s proposal also delays suspension of benefits and eligibility, by extending certain Medi-Cal benefits (optical, audiology, podiatry, speech therapy, and incontinence creams and washes), extending Medi-Cal eligibility from 60 days to one year for post-partum women diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and expanding Medi-Cal screening for the overuse of opioids and illicit drugs, all until July 2023.

 

Wrecked – Vehicle towings take a huge toll on America’s poor.

Mary Lovelace was living in Brentwood, California, and working as an interior designer. As a home-improvement specialist, she would drive a minimum of 365 miles every day in her car, carrying samples including doors, windows, and hardware in the trunk and backseat.

“Then the recession hit, between 2007 and 2009,” Lovelace recalls. “It kept getting worse and worse.” Fewer people were hiring interior designers, and eventually Lovelace was laid off. She received unemployment, which wasn’t enough to cover her rent after other expenses. She tried without success to find other work. She was eventually evicted from her rented house. A friend in nearby San Francisco let her stay in his garage. She parked her car across the street.

Parking tickets began to accumulate on the car. Some tickets, she says, listed the wrong address, a block and a half from where the vehicle was parked; sometimes the dates did not match. After a while, the car was “booted”—a metal device clamped on the wheel to render it immobile.

Nearly 50,000 towing businesses operate in the U.S., and they have already generated more than $8 billion in revenue so far this year.

…Mike Herald, director of policy advocacy for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, a California-based public interest law firm and contributor to the report, points to revelations from Ferguson, Missouri, as an example of what has been happening elsewhere.

Read more 

 

Lawsuit: Los Angeles Overcharges Poor Probationers

At the legal clinic run by A New Way of Life, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides shelter and services to formerly incarcerated women and their children, attorneys noticed a concerning pattern.

Community members who served jail or prison time persistently told attorneys that they “were being charged excessive amounts for the cost of probation, amounts that they couldn’t ever hope to repay,” said C.T. Turney-Lewis, the group’s supervising staff attorney. Oftentimes, they “have no income and were leaving probation with thousands and thousands of dollars in outstanding costs.”

…The criminal justice-related fees assessed by California counties are among the highest in the country, with Los Angeles topping the list, according to a study by the Western Center on Law & Poverty, an advocacy group of legal scholars. 

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