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Challenging Unjust Juvenile Fee Collection for Families in Riverside

Last month, Western Center filed a motion for class certification in our case, Freeman v. Riverside County, which challenges how Riverside County charged fees to parents and guardians whose children were involved in the juvenile legal system. The case was filed together with our co-counsel, the National Center for Youth Law.

Families were charged daily “costs of support” – $30 or so per day for each day their child was in detention. State law required the county to assess families’ ability to afford the costs, which were often thousands of dollars, and provide procedural due process before collecting. Riverside did nothing – just calculated the fees and sent the totals to collection. Our case seeks to shine a light on this abuse of government authority, and asks for a refund of illegally collected fees.

Fortunately, the authority to charge these types of juvenile fees has been eliminated in California, as well as counties’ ability to collect older fees. The story behind this case is important, not just for accountability in Riverside, but also because there are still many fees charged to overpoliced communities in California.

Cases like this one demonstrate why advocates are fighting for abolition of juvenile and adult criminal fees – not a reduction or ability to pay process. There are important racial equity principles behind that goal, because of who the juvenile and adult legal systems target. There are also common sense administrative policy reasons for fee abolition, mainly that ability to pay processes are inequitable and don’t work. Our case in Riverside shows that even when state law requires an ability to pay process, it is not followed, or it’s followed so ineptly or inconsistently that it becomes meaningless. Ability to pay processes also replicate racial bias in the courts and legal system.

As this case proceeds, I must share our appreciation and admiration for our clients who have worked with us on this case for over two years, and for their bravery in telling their stories. We are hopeful for a good outcome, and that the class data we may be able to obtain illustrates why shifting the cost of government onto individuals through user fees causes inequity, and in a nutshell, constitutes wealth stripping from low income communities and communities of color.

Fee Abolition: Ignoring the Law in Riverside County

“Unfortunately, no one tracks fee burden by racial demographic… Because Black and Latinx youth were over punished, they also faced higher fee burdens.” -Courtney McKinney, Director of Communications with the Western Center on Law and Poverty

https://blackvoicenews.com/2020/11/23/fee-abolition-ignoring-the-law-in-riverside-county/

Western Center’s 2020 Legislative Roundup

2020 has been an unusual year, and the California legislative session was no exception — everyone from legislators to advocates had to adjust to the year’s challenges. Western Center started the year with 38 bills, but due to COVID-19, the Legislature significantly narrowed the number of bills. Even so, our advocates worked tirelessly to make sure people with low incomes are protected in California law, both during the pandemic and after it’s over. Here is a roundup of our sponsored and co-sponsored bills – those that passed, and some we will bring back next year.

Bills signed

ACCESS TO JUSTICE & PUBLIC BENEFITS

  • SB 144 (Mitchell)/AB 1869 (Budget Committee) to repeal state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees. The bill was parked and we moved the language into a trailer bill which repealed 23 of the criminal justice fees and expunged an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt associated with these fees. We achieved this historic, first in the country victory in coordination with the Debt Free Justice Coalition.
  • SB 1290 (Durazo and Mitchell) to require counties to stop collecting juvenile fees assessed before 2018. Our sponsored bill SB 190 stopped new debt from accumulating after that date, but did not eliminate existing debt. We are now the first state in the country to completely eliminate juvenile fees, which is an important step in state disinvestment in the carceral system.
  • SB 1409 (Caballero) requires the Franchise Tax Board to analyze and develop a plan to implement a “no return” tax filing pilot program to increase the number of claims of the CalEITC (California Earned Income Tax Credit).
  • SB 1065 (Hertzberg) to make specified changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program. This bill is a favorite of public benefit legal services programs, and bookends about four years’ worth of legislation. Currently, domestic violence impacted CalWORKs recipients have 16 days of a hotel voucher and another 16 days if an application is still pending. SB 1065 extends the 32 days to everyone regardless of whether or not their application was approved. It also allows for the repeal of an asset test of $100 on the program; allows rental assistance to cover first, last, and deposit (rather than just first and deposit); allows a sworn statement by family to verify that a family is homeless rather than requiring county verification; and eliminates responsibility of the client to return to the county every four days to verify homelessness. It also improves disaster provisions by making eligibility conditioned upon a family becoming homeless as a direct and primary result of a state or federal declared disaster (including pandemic).
  • AB 3073 (Wicks) to require the Department of Social Services to issue guidance on the allowable practices to maximize CalFresh eligibility for people leaving jail or prison. Click here for a copy of a report we published on this topic.
  • AB 2325 (Carrillo) would restore Section 4007.5 of the Family Code with a 3 year sunset. This law was allowed to sunset last year, requiring child support order suspensions to be process manually for people who are incarcerated over 90 days, rather than have them automatically suspended. We worked in coalition on this bill with Truth and Justice in Child Support.

*Budget Bills we supported in coalition:

  • Ending exclusion of ITIN tax filers in CalEITC.
  • Institute Homestead Act protections against home loss during bankruptcy, and to establish a new state entity charged with licensing debt collectors and protecting consumers from abusive and illegal debt collection practices.
  • Restored CalWORKs assistance to the full 60 months permitted under federal law beginning in 2022.
  • Expanded the amount of child support payments CalWORKs families can keep from $50 a month to $100 a month for one child, and up to $200 for two or more children.

HEALTH

  • AB 2520 (Chiu) will increase access to public benefit programs by requiring doctors to complete forms and make it easier to obtain medical records for people in need of benefits programs.
  • AB 2276 (Reyes) would implement the California Auditor’s recommendations to increase blood lead screenings of children on Medi-Cal, as already mandated, and would require the Department of Public Health to update risk factors for evaluating risk of lead poisoning.

HOUSING

  • AB 3088 (Chiu) – AB 1482 Clean-Up: cleans up a number of confusing provisions in last year’s AB 1482, which limited rent increases and required just cause for evictions for tenants in multifamily properties over 15 years old. The bill was also amended during the last week of the legislative session to include a negotiated compromise around protecting tenants from eviction due to COVID through January 2021. That portion of the bill did not have sponsors.

A few bills that didn’t pass this year, but will be back in 2021

  • SB 1399 (Durazo) to address wage theft in California’s garment industry. It failed to make it out of the Legislature this year, in spite of a remarkable grassroots efforts by workers and advocates, and despite the fact that many of the workers experiencing wage theft are the same essential workers who have been sewing masks during the pandemic. Our coalition, led by LA’s Garment Worker Center, will bring the bill back next year.
  • AB 683 (Carrillo) to fix Medi-Cal’s restrictive asset test, which only applies to elders and people with disabilities, was held in committee despite broad community support. The current extremely low limit on allowable assets forces many of the same people most susceptible to COVID-19 to choose between health care and saving for an emergency. We will keep fighting to change that next year.
  • AB 826 (Santiago) would have provided emergency food assistance for Californians who are underserved by other food assistance programs. It was vetoed by the Governor on September 29th. Coverage of the veto can be found in CalMatters, Los Angeles Times, and Associated Press.

 

 

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

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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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/

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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