Towards Decriminalizing Poverty: L.A. Erases $90M In Debts Incurred By Juvenile Offenders

Towards Decriminalizing Poverty: L.A. Erases $90M In Debts Incurred By Juvenile Offenders

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When juvenile offenders are sent to detention facilities, many states actually charge parents fines and fees associated with their children’s detention.

Before 2009, Los Angeles charged families $23.63 a day for a dependent in a juvenile detention center and $11.94 a day for a dependent in a probation camp. The city banned the practice in 2009, according to the Los Angeles Times,

But even though Los Angeles stopped changing families nearly a decade ago, the city has still been trying to collect on past debts. On Oct.r 9, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors decided to end this practice in Los Angeles County. This will erase nearly $90 million worth of debt held by juvenile offenders, their parents, and their guardians.

“Collecting fees for juvenile detention undermines youth rehabilitation and public safety,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who with Supervisor Janice Hahn co-authored the motion, in a statement. “It also unnecessarily increases the financial insecurity of vulnerable families. As part of a larger, transformative reexamination of how we serve our justice-involved residents, including our re-entry population, LA County is reexamining our approach to juvenile justice. Today’s action helps families and our youth in detention while setting up future generations for success rather than incarceration.”

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juvenile offenders
FILE – In this June 20, 2018 file photo , inmates pass a correctional officer as they leave an exercise yard at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Calif. In a final flurry of legislation before he leaves office in January, termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown signed a number of bills with his long-term goal of reducing mass incarceration, rehabilitating juvenile offenders, trimming lengthy prison sentences and offering second chances to the criminally convicted. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)

Poor and Black families are disproportionately affected by these fees, according to research conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice. This motion will be a major relief for these families.

A former juvenile offender named Alberto Penuelas told the board that his detention affected his single mother, according to the L.A. Times.

“They would call her every Saturday collecting these debts…She could barely afford to feed us,” he told the board. “I’m hoping that this passes and this doesn’t happen to other families.”

The move by Los Angeles sets a precedent for other cities and states, according to Jessica Feierman, Associate Director at Juvenile Law Center.

There are still many other cities and states that charge families of juvie detainees. A 2018 report by the Juvenile Law Center found that 37 states require or permit the juvenile court system to bill families for attorneys’ fees when a lawyer is appointed to represent a child — bills that can run into thousands of dollars. Four states require administrative or application fees, while seven other states’ laws permit the practice, Juvenile Justice Information Center reported.

Court fines and fees cause overwhelming economic and emotional stress to families and undermine the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system, Solis told CNBC Make It:

“California has already led the way nationally by passing comprehensive legislation to eliminate harmful juvenile justice fines and fees. Yesterday’s decision by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to free tens of thousands of families from any remaining court debt sets a crucial example for the rest of the country, ” Feierman said.

The $90-million debt was held by 52,000 juvenile offenders and their families. That averages $1,730 per family.