Parents often are billed by the state and county for their children’s incarceration.
“Even if a child is later proved innocent, the parents still must pay a nightly rate for the detention. Bills run up to $1,000 a month, and many of the parents of Philadelphia’s roughly 730 detained children are so poor they can afford monthly installments of only five dollars,” The Marshall Project reported.
“I mean, do we think the taxpayers should be supporting these bad kids?” asked attorney Steven Kaplan, a leading proponent of billing parents.
The policy of charging parents for their children’s incarceration varies across the nation.
“Of the nation’s 50 state-level juvenile justice systems, 19 regularly or sometimes bill parents for their children’s detention. California, Pennsylvania and several other states have highly decentralized juvenile justice systems; their state agencies do not bill parents—but most of their counties do,”The Project reported.
Advocates have challenged the payment system, arguing that it is taxing parents for their child’s loss of liberty.
“In Philadelphia, the City Council is…(considering) abolishing the practice. In California—which incarcerates more children than any other state, at a typical cost to parents of $30 a night—activists have succeeded in getting the practice banned in three counties,” The Project reported.
“Aside from all the emotional stuff—holding my son together, holding myself together—now they’re going to say, ‘By the way, you owe us cash for this?’” said Tamisha Walker, one of the mothers who fought successfully for a moratorium in California’s Contra Costa County.
Despite collection efforts by counties, the results are dismal, “Philadelphia netted $551,261 from parents of delinquent children in fiscal 2016, a small fraction of the $81,148,521 the city spent on all delinquent placements,” The Project reported.
Juvenile correction administrators argue that the payment system keeps parents in the lives of their children. “It increases buy-in. It keeps parents’ skin in the game,” said James Bueche, who heads Louisiana’s Office of Juvenile Justice.
Some of the collection tactics employed by states and counties can be drastic.
“When parents fail to pay on time, the state can send collection agencies after them, tack on interest, garnish 50 percent of their wages, seize their bank accounts, intercept their tax refunds, suspend their driver’s licenses or charge them with contempt of court,” The Project reported.
“In August, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit weighed in forcefully on the side of Maria Rivera, a parent who sold her house and went bankrupt in order to pay Orange County more than $9,500 for her son’s incarceration.”
The judge held, “Not only does such a policy unfairly conscript the poorest members of society to bear the cost of public institutions…but it takes advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable, essentially imposing ‘a tax upon distress.’”
To Kaplan, parents are obligated to pay for whatever housing their children are in, even if it’s a jail.
“Child support is child support is child support,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter if the kids live with Mom, Dad, Aunt Betsy, or with me — Uncle Steve — in detention.”