California legislators are considering a bill that would eliminate fees charged to guardians when their children enter the juvenile justice system.
“Under California’s current Government Code, individual counties have authority to charge parents or guardians for the costs of feeding and housing minors in detention, as well as electronic monitors, substance abuse testing, probation and home supervision,” Carimah Townes reported for ThinkProgress.
Democratic California Senator Holly Mitchell, who sponsored the bill, said, “These fees run counter to the overall purpose of a fair juvenile system. The primary goal should always be to help juvenile offenders re-enter society so they can be productive and successful.”
The debt incurred by juveniles in detention has a far-reaching impact.
“Many have their detention or probation time extended, as they do in California, while some are sent to a juvenile facility if they weren’t already placed in one,” the Juvenile Law Center stated in its 2016 report “Debtors’ Prison for Kids?”
“Others are unable to get their records expunged, denied rehabilitative treatment, refused driver’s licenses, and forced to skip school or work because of court appearances. There is also the possibility that they’ll be removed from their families altogether, because parents have their guardianship threatened.”
According to the Marshall Project, 19 states have laws on the books that allow the state itself to charge parents, and California is one of 28 states with laws permitting counties to do so.
“Lawmakers who support the fees say the money is supposed to compensate for what the county spends on a young person in the system. … But juvenile policy advocates argue that the sums of money earned off of families that can’t pay the fees amount to a tiny fraction of counties’ annual budgets,” Townes reported.
In 2016, Santa Clara and Alameda Counties eliminated the practice of collecting fees after researchers discovered how little revenue they were generating while still punishing the youths and their families.
If the bill becomes law, anyone under the age of 21 – and their families – will not be charged with fees when they are involved with juvenile justice system.