California counties stop charging fees for juvenile incarcerationTuesday, November 15, 2016
When minors face criminal charges, their parents often face financial ones. That’s true throughout the country.
In some California Counties for instance, it can cost as much as $30 per-day for room and board for parents whose children are locked up inside juvenile hall. The bills don’t stop there. When kids are strapped with ankle monitors or assigned a probation officer, parents are often charged for that as well.
Youth Radio first reported on the issue of juvenile fees back in 2014 for Marketplace, and reported the story of Zoe Mathews. Her son had died, but she was still paying bills for the time he spent in juvenile hall. Mathews’ son was locked up for 208 days at a cost of almost $30 per day. Ultimately, she was charged more than $7,000.
“It’s a constant reminder that, no, he’s not here anymore,” said Mathews. “By being incarcerated, you’re paying your debt back to society. So then they’re going to charge you an additional per-night stay as if there were some options? The bills are additional stress to already a very painful situation that I will be dealing with for the rest of my life.”
Attorney Kate Weisburd of The East Bay Community Law Center, said, “It almost felt like you were at the checkout line at Target. And you were getting this receipt for how much money you owed.”
Weisburd, who primarily represents young people in Alameda County, Calif., said teens and their families would end up with piles of bills they didn’t expect, and since the majority of her clients are low income, the impact was huge.
The East Bay Community Law Center partnered with the law school at UC Berkeley to further investigate the fees. After filing multiple Freedom of Information Act Requests, Weisburd and her team learned how much money was being charged, and how much was actually being collected from young people and their families.
The collections costs were high. The county was paying salaries and benefits for multiple financial hearing officers to administer and collect the fees, but not a lot of money was coming in because the families who were being charged often couldn’t afford to pay.
So Weisburd and her collaborators took their findings to county supervisors like Richard Valle.