Report: Juvenile-Justice Fees Forcing Some CA Families Into Bankruptcy

Before Sacramento County repealed its fees, the average juvenile probation case could generate $5,640 in fees, according to a new report. Photo Credit: JDAI AZ

Suzanne Potter
California News Service

BERKELEY, Calif. – A new report finds that some California families are losing their homes and being driven into bankruptcy by the fees counties charge when kids get arrested – fees that nonetheless generate little to no profit for taxpayers.

Researchers from the UC Berkeley School of Law found that more than 50 counties charge fees for detention, probation supervision, electronic monitoring, drug testing and even representation by a public defender.

Co-author Stephanie Campos-Bui, a clinical supervising attorney with the Policy Advocacy Clinic at the UC Berkeley School of Law, says many kids who get into trouble come from struggling families, so the fees are counterproductive and cause even more family strife.

“Many families can’t afford to pay even $50 a month, let alone $500 a month,” she says. “When these fees are assessed, they become a civil judgment against a family that is enforceable through wage garnishment and tax-rebate intercepts.”

The report shows that San Diego, Orange, Kern and Ventura counties charge the most in fees. But Sacramento County just voted a month ago to stop charging their fees altogether and forgave the debt that families there had accrued, some dating back to the 1970s.

Bui says San Francisco County has never charged the fees. And Los Angeles, Butte, Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties all have re-evaluated their fees in the past year, citing fiscal reasons and a desire to improve a system that disproportionately harms families of color.

“Santa Clara County ended their fees in January,” she adds. “They were spending over $450,000 in staff and resources and only collected $400,000. So, a net loss.”

A bill currently before the state Legislature, Senate Bill 190, would ban collection of fees in the juvenile-justice system across the state.