Juvenile Fee Abolition in California: Early Lessons and Challenges for the Debt Free Justice Movement
18 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2019 Last revised: 4 Feb 2020
Date Written: October 16, 2019
Fees in the criminal and juvenile legal systems are a key driver of racial and economic injustice. This essay draws on years of research to describe fees charged to families with youth in California's juvenile delinquency system, the successful campaign to abolish the fees effective January 1, 2018, an emerging movement for fee reform ("debt free justice") nationally, and early lessons and challenges for ending such regressive and racially discriminatory laws and practices everywhere.
To date in California, dozens of counties have relieved hundreds of thousands of predominantly low-income and disproportionately Black and Brown families of more than $237 million in previously assessed fees. 22 counties continue to pursue collection of $136 million, with litigation and legislation to end the collection and discharge old fees currently pending.
But the liberatory promise of debt free justice is contingent not only on ending systemic wealth extraction from low-income communities of color. In addition to abolishing fees, the essay argues that we must replace the current juvenile and criminal legal systems with publicly-funded justice models that invest in the same people who have been unjustly harmed by mass criminalization.
Keywords: juvenile justice, fines and fees, abolition, criminal justice reform, criminal debt, monetary sanctions, legal financial obligations
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