LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to stop collecting fees ordered years ago to cover the cost of juvenile detention.
The county ended the practice of charging families for housing their children in juvenile halls or camps nearly a decade ago, but kept collecting fees that were court-ordered prior to February 2009.
In January, California passed a law ending the assessment of juvenile detention fees statewide, but also failed to prohibit the collection of previously assessed fees.
Supervisor Hilda Solis said the “fees impose hardships on families while generating little return for the county” and are “not worth the cost and effort to the county.”
Solis said the county collects about $10,000 in fees each month from around 50 families, less than 1 percent of the total $90 million owed to the county by more than 52,000 families.
Her motion also cited evidence that administrative fees undermine rehabilitation and are correlated to higher rates of recidivism.
Supervisor Janice Hahn, who co-authored the motion, said poor and minority communities are harder hit by the detention fees.
“The justice system is not always about equal justice,” she said. “There’s no good reason to pursue families for fees assessed nearly a decade ago.”
Unpaid fees can result in years of bad credit, which only makes it harder for families to manage, Hahn added.
Juvenile justice advocate Kim McGill, of the Youth Justice Coalition, said families paying fees included two grandparents living on monthly Social Security payments of $772 while caring for a severely ill child.
A young father who left his job to help set his son on a better path ended up returning to work to pay detention fees, only to see his son re-arrested, McGill told the board. The father ultimately left the U.S. to raise his son in Africa, she said.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said ending collections was in line with best practices across the country.
“This makes total sense because it’s not just about the youth, it’s about the whole family,” Barger said.
The board directed staffers to immediately stop collecting such debts and file the legal documents needed to satisfy outstanding liens and court judgments and to also notify parents and guardians to stop paying.