Making Families Pay: The Harmful, Unlawful, and Costly Practice of Charging Juvenile Administrative Fees in California
58 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2017 Last revised: 11 Dec 2019
Date Written: March 20, 2017
While regressive and discriminatory criminal justice fees have been described and critiqued in the criminal justice system for adults, this is the first in-depth study of the practice of charging families for their children's involvement in the juvenile justice system in a state (California).
Our research over the last three years reveals that juvenile administrative fees undermine the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile system. They cause financial hardship to families, weaken family ties, and undermine family reunification. Because Black and Latino youth are overrepresented and overpunished relative to White youth in the juvenile system, families of color bear a disproportionate burden of the fees.
Some counties charge juvenile administrative fees to families in violation of state and federal law. Counties also engage in fee practices that may violate the Constitution by depriving families of due process of law through inadequate ability to pay determinations and by denying families equal protection of the law.
Finally, counties net little revenue from the fees. Because of the high costs and low returns associated with trying to collect fees from low-income families, most of the fee revenue pays for collection activity, not for the care and supervision of youth. Fee debt can cause families to spend less on positive social goods, such as education and healthcare, which imposes long term costs on families, communities, and society by prolonging and exacerbating poverty.
In light of our findings that fees are harmful, unlawful, and costly, we make the following recommendations to California policymakers:
1. To end their harmful impact on youth and families, the state should repeal laws that permit the assessment and collection of juvenile administrative fees.
2. To redress unlawful practices, counties should reimburse families for all payments they made on improperly charged juvenile administrative fees.
3. To understand the consequences of costly practices like juvenile administrative fees, the state and counties should collect and maintain better data in the juvenile system.
Keywords: criminal justice debt, monetary sanctions, excessive fines, juvenile justice, legal financial obligations, court debt, fines, fees, restitution
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