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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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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.”

California Takes Another Step Toward 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

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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