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Los Angeles Country Erases $90 Million in Juvenile Court Fees

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Incarceration fees can create cycles of recidivism and run counter to the criminal justice system’s  rehabilitation ideal. You can join us in taking action on this issue here.

Los Angeles County supervisors erased more than $90 million in outstanding court and detention fees for juvenile delinquents on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The incarceration fees were waived because they disproportionately affected people of color, placed a difficult financial burden on low-income families, and contributed to recidivism, according to the Times.

“It is simply not worth the cost and effort to the county — and more importantly, not worth the cost to families — to continue with these collection payments,” Hilda Solis, LA County supervisor, told the Times.

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Criminal justice advocates applauded the decision and urged other counties to follow suit.

Charging fees for juvenile incarceration is a common practice throughout the United States.

California had been charging families for the time juveniles spent in detention facilities, and many of their bills quickly grew to several thousand dollars. In 2009, the state of California placed a moratorium on this practice in response to growing public pressure. There were, however, significant outstanding accounts and counties focused their attention on collecting payments.

In LA County, there were 52,000 accounts totalling nearly $90 million that the Probation Department had been seeking payments from and more than $120,000 was collected in 2017.

Criminal justice advocates hope that since LA County is the most populous county in the US, its decision could influence other counties.

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“The two main purposes of the juvenile justice system are to rehabilitate kids and to protect public safety, and it turns out these fees undermine both of those,” Jeffrey Selbin, director of the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, told the Times.

“We hope this will be a signal to other counties,” he said.

LA County’s decision comes amid a broader push for criminal justice reform across the state and the country.

In August, Governor Jerry Brown signed a law ending the practice of cail bail, and San Francisco erased $32 million in criminal justice fees for 21,000 adult.

In New York, meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his intention to eliminate cash bail as well. In Florida, formerly incarcerated people are leading an effort to restore voting rights for felons. And progressive district attorneys across the country are seeking to revolutionize the criminal justice system to emphasize rehabilitation rather than punishment.

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Criminal justice advocates argue that charging incarcerated people fees creates cycles of poverty and recidivism.

“Charged to people who have already paid their debt to society, criminal justice administrative fees serve no formal punitive function and are often assigned to people who simply cannot afford to pay them,” Jhumpa Bhattacharya, vice president of programs and strategy at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development in Oakland, and Theresa Zhen, staff attorney and supervisor at the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley, wrote in an op-ed urging California’s Alameda County to waive criminal fees in Mercury News.

“Such crippling fees force families who are already financially stressed to make untenable choices between paying court-ordered fees or covering basic expenses, like feeding their children,” they added. “They therefore often end up with insurmountable, uncollectable debt.”