Sonoma County, CA just joined a small but growing number of California counties that have stopped charging daily detention fees to parents and guardians of children in the juvenile justice system. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to stop charging a $32 daily fee and forgive an estimated $4 million in debt held by families with unpaid bills, many dating back more than a decade.
Adults jailed in California aren’t charged daily fees for room and board. But for decades, California law has allowed counties to charge parents and guardians daily rates for children held at juvenile halls and probation camps. Those fees come in addition to charges for services like probation supervision, public defender representation, electronic monitoring and drug testing.
The bills have come under fire as outdated and unfairly burdensome on low-income families and communities of color. Researchers found some counties were spending more trying to collect payments than they were getting back.
The California Senate passed a bill last week that would end juvenile justice fees statewide. The bill, Senate Bill 190, was amended to remove a provision that would have required counties to clear existing debts related to the fees. The bill is pending committee assignment in the Assembly.
defender representation. The average stay is 107 days for children ordered by a judge to serve time in juvenile hall, costing parents a minimum of $3,424, according to the probation department numbers.
Shirlee Zane, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, said:
What we’re acknowledging is the restoration of those juveniles very much depends on their families, and if we stress these disadvantaged families with these costs it doesn’t help. I think we went in the right direction, and we’re ahead of the legislation.
Researchers with the UC Berkeley’s School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic found evidence the fees led to garnished wages, intercepted tax refunds and bankruptcy.
In one case, a mother in Contra Costa County was billed more than $10,000 for her son’s detention in juvenile hall even though all the charges against him were dropped.
Sonoma County is “moving in the right direction with a good group of counties now who have all decided to look at this issue and decided it’s not worth it given the impact on families,” said one of the researchers, Stephanie Campos-Bui, who is pushing state lawmakers to support the bill.
Probation chief David Koch has said the fees have been a point of discussion for more than a year among statewide groups of probation department heads.
Two days after the Press Democrat’s May 6 story about the fees, county supervisors asked the probation department to research how much the county would lose by eliminating the fees, and expressed a strong interest in getting rid of them. Koch told supervisors the county can tap into an underused state fund for juvenile probation services to cover the lost revenue, roughly $300,000 each year.
Koch said the fees dated back decades when far more children were housed at juvenile hall, many for minor offenses that wouldn’t result in incarceration today.
He said the fees, approved by the Legislature in the 1960s, were meant to deter parents from dropping off unruly children at juvenile hall, an outdated practice no longer possible.
“It really is just an additional stresser to families that are already stressed, and we don’t want to do that,” Zane said.
© Humane Exposures / Susan Madden Lankford