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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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Some Counties Illegally Levy Juvenile Legal Fees—Low-Income Families of Color Are Hit Hardest

“Even with all this evidence that fees are recidivistic and fees are bad for children and bad for communities of color … we still end up with counties choosing to continue to collect them, and that’s really disappointing,” said Jess Bartholow, legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, which sponsored the original legislation. “Why would we allow these fees to continue to be out there and create harm?”

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New Study Finds Youth Fee Repeal Law Led to Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in Relief for California Families

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 Almost two years after implementation of Senate Bill 190, more work remains to bring debt-free justice to youth and families across California

SACRAMENTO—California counties have stopped collecting hundreds of millions of dollars from vulnerable families after the passage of Senate Bill 190 (Mitchell, Lara), which abolished fees in the juvenile legal system, according to a new study released today by UC Berkeley Law School’s Policy Advocacy Clinic. Some counties, however, continue to charge prohibited fees to families and to collect past fees. The full report is available online here.

According to San Mateo County resident Sonya N., “It was a blessing when San Mateo stopped collecting thousands of dollars in fees they had charged me from my son’s juvenile case. As a single parent with two kids, it was a real hardship to make that payment every month. When the County cleared the old fees, it was less of a struggle to buy gas or pay for my family’s basic needs.”

However, not all parents and guardians live in counties that ended fee collection. San Diego County parents Andrew and Christina S. were charged more than $15,000 in juvenile fees when their adopted son got into trouble: “We were thrilled when we learned that SB 190 was passed, but it did nothing about the fees that we were charged for one of our six children we adopted through the County foster care system. Instead of applying the tenets of SB 190, the County accelerated collection efforts with a judgement, lien, and now threats to garnish our wages. We would hope that all families with juvenile fees can get relief.”

The clinic conducted the study on behalf of the Western Center on Law & Poverty, which sponsored SB 190. Starting January 1, 2018, SB 190 repealed county authority to charge fees in the juvenile legal system. The legislation also ended several fees for young people ages 18-21 in the criminal (adult) legal system.

Researchers found that all counties stopped charging new juvenile fees before the law went into effect. Although SB 190 did not waive previously assessed fees, 36 counties voluntarily discharged or stopped collecting them, relieving hundreds of thousands of families of more than $237 million.

According to study co-author Stephanie Campos-Bui, “The majority of counties have taken it upon themselves to end the collection of hundreds of millions of dollars in previously assessed fees. Such widespread relief is unprecedented in the history of criminal justice reform and can serve as a model for debt-free justice in other states.”

Counties have gone beyond the requirements of SB 190 in other important ways: one county refunded families who made payments on unlawfully charged fees, some counties stopped charging fees not repealed by SB 190, and three counties repealed fees in the adult system.

In spite of significant progress, the study found that some counties are violating SB 190 by pursuing prohibited juvenile fees through child support orders and by charging young people ages 18-21 in the adult system. According to Western Center on Law & Poverty Legislative Advocate Jessica Bartholow, “With other legal services providers across the state, we are actively monitoring and addressing these ongoing violations. We expect counties to comply fully with SB 190.”

Twenty-two counties are still pursuing over $136 million in previously assessed juvenile fees from California families. Of these counties, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, Tulare, and Stanislaus are collecting more than 95% of the total statewide. San Diego, home to Mr. and Mrs. S., is still collecting $58 million from families.

In light of these findings, the researchers recommend that counties stop assessing all remaining SB 190 fees, voluntarily end collection of previously assessed fees, and notify affected youth and their families of the law change. The researchers also recommend that the state oversee local child support compliance with SB 190 and pass legislation to make all previously assessed SB 190 fees unenforceable and uncollectable.

In response to the study, SB 190 co-author Senator Holly J. Mitchell said, “We can all be proud of the progress that we have made, but it is clear we can do better. I look forward to continued work with impacted youth and their families until all fee collection is ended statewide.”

Congressman Tony Cárdenas of California’s 29th Congressional District also said the study’s findings were a call to action: “We need to end the cruel practice of collecting fees from youth that keep children in jail and American families in debt. I am proud to have introduced the Eliminating Debtor’s Prison for Kids Act and to be leading the Congressional call to action to end these unfair fees. I urge my colleagues in Washington and legislators in my home state of California to join me in my fight to ensure that our youth have a second chance at a better life.”

CONTACTS:

Stephanie Campos-Bui, Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, (510) 643-4624, [email protected]

Jess Bartholow, Legislative Advocate at Western Center on Law & Poverty, (916) 282-5119, [email protected]

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