If you’ve been reading us each week, you know that our criminal justice system is broken and is designed to disproportionately punish people of color. On this Mother’s Day weekend all-of-us must remember the over one million mothers of sons and daughters who find themselves in criminal court each year. Often, it is the families of these juveniles who end up having to choose between basic necessities and ballooning fees which courts impose on defendants. These fees are meant to cover everything from courtroom expenses to expunging a juvenile record. Many families are unable to pay these fees, resulting in an endless cycle of financial stress and needlessly tie these families to the criminal justice system forever.
Thankfully, there is a national movement to end these regressive and discriminatory fees underway. One key player in that movement is the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, which conducted groundbreaking research and found that juvenile fee practices in California were:
harmful to youth, undermining the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system;
often conducted unlawfully, as counties charged fees that violated state or federal law or failed to conduct an ability-to-pay process that met legal requirements or both; and
costly because most families could not afford to pay the fees, and so counties collected a small percentage of what they charged, with most of what they collected going toward collection activity and not to supporting youth.
As Stephanie Campos-Bui, PAC’s supervising attorney has explained, “These fees cause tremendous harm to vulnerable families who can least afford to pay them…” This research didn’t just stay in the ivory tower, it supported California SB 190, which repealed county authority to charge new fees on juveniles effective January 1, 2018. While the bill is prospective only, PAC has already persuaded counties across California to discharge more than $206 million in previously assessed fees. And they aren’t stopping there--PAC is now taking this movement national and hosted the first national convening on this important issue in February.
All-of-us must join the movement to support #debtfreejustice.
2 Support the movement to end juvenile justice fees across the US by donating to the Policy Advocacy Clinic Fund here (put #debtfreejustice in the notes).
3 Follow #debtfreejustice on Twitter.
4 If you are outside of California, contact your state representatives and express your support for #debtfreejustice. Make them aware of California’s SB 190 and find out what your state is doing to end juvenile fees.