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California Stopped Charging Parents For Kids’ Incarceration But Some Still Owe Thousands

 February 14, 2020 at 9:35 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 California was the first state in the nation to stop the practice of charging parents for their children's time in juvenile detention. But the law was not retroactive and some parents in San Diego are still paying the bill and investigation by Cal matters found that 22 California counties are still collecting fees from parents with juvenile hall expenses accrued before January, 2018 and San Diego leads the pack. Journey me is Cal matters. Reporter Jackie bots and Jackie, welcome to the program. Speaker 2: 00:30 Hi, thanks so much for having me. Speaker 1: 00:32 Tell us the story if you will, of the San Diego family profiled in your report, the Simmons family, they're still paying a large juvenile justice bill. Speaker 2: 00:41 Yeah, that's right. Um, I spoke with a family in Ramona, California. Andrew Simmons and his wife are foster parents. They adopted six siblings, um, age zero through nine who had had a rough childhood. One of their sons started getting in trouble with the law and his, um, later teen years and he spent a lot of time in juvenile hall and homes to provision between 2013 and 2015. So the Simmons started getting these bills from San Diego County, uh, which were shocking to them. They never expected to be billed. They were getting charged $31 per day for basically room and board costs in juvenile detention for the 400 days or some spent in juvenile hall and $20 per day for the 53 days he spent in, in homes supervision between 2013 and 2015. So that added up, it ended up adding up to nearly $14,000 that they owed the County. Um, and at the time their finances were, were break even. According to Andrew Simmons, uh, both he and his wife have good jobs, but with six kids who have had a lot of needs, they weren't in a position, he said to pay up and they never did. Uh, so the County, um, ended up filing a lien on their house in 2016, which means I can't Sal a refinance, uh, without paying up the debt first. In 2017, their state tax refund was intercepted. Um, and they've gotten these threatening letters saying that, uh, Andrew Simmons wife's wages will be garnished. Speaker 1: 02:12 Jackie, how much is San Diego owed overall in these fees? Speaker 2: 02:16 So the latest figures come from the end of 2019. Um, the most recent data is that San Diego is currently still collecting on about $41 million in juvenile fees. That's down from the amount that they were collecting. When California passed the new law to stop collecting fees. It's down about 3.6 million in fees that they've actually been able to collect. And then they've closed about 14.5 million worth of of accounts because for example, they determined the family was unable to pay or the debt was too old. Speaker 1: 02:50 Now, California, as we've been mentioning, stopped this practice in 2018. What were the reasons for the change? Speaker 2: 02:57 It's very much rooted in a policy from the 1970s and 1980s. The thinking went that parents would have more incentive to keep their children out of trouble if they were held liable for it. And also the taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for quote unquote bad parenting. Um, and I will say that this is still a very common practice in the adult justice system. People are charged for the cost of uh, administrative costs of their incarceration. Speaker 1: 03:24 Didn't they find out that this was making people go back to jail up more because their family was so stressed with all the financial obligations. Speaker 2: 03:34 So in 2017, um, Senator Holly Mitchell in, uh, Los Angeles, Democrat introduced a bill to stop eliminating the fees and that really came out of a growing recognition that families of color were much more likely to bear the burden of this debt than white families. And research also began to indicate that coming out of juvenile hall with debt was actually correlated with miners going on to commit another offense. From an economic standpoint, counties don't really have a great rate of collection on these fees often because we're talking about families that are already struggling, struggling economically. Speaker 1: 04:12 Now you contacted a member of San Diego's board of supervisors. What did he tell you about why San Diego is still pursuing these fees? Speaker 2: 04:19 I talked to the chair of San Diego boards, County board of supervisors, that supervisor Greg Cox, he said that the funds are needed for, and I'm quoting valuable services that help our youth. So he mentioned that these fees that are collected by the County pay for public safety services such as the cost of housing youth in detention, and to offset a portion of the cost of their legal representation Speaker 1: 04:46 it, but it's costing San Diego quite a bit to collect on the fees, isn't it? Speaker 2: 04:50 Yeah, that's right. It does cost money to pay staff to collect on fees or otherwise you contract with an outside agency like a declaration agency or the state, a tax agency to garnish their wages or intercept their taxes. So San Diego for example, spends about 60 cents, um, on collection efforts for every dollar that it collects for an in juvenile fees. Speaker 1: 05:18 What did some other counties do? Did they just waive the fees? Speaker 2: 05:22 Yeah, that's right. Um, plenty of counties, uh, 36 and all decided to either formally discharge the fees or just stop collecting. Speaker 1: 05:31 So did you hear from supervisor Cox that the County might consider stopping the collection of these juvenile justice fees? Speaker 2: 05:38 He said that he is willing to consider a review this year, the collection of the funds, and he said he would discuss it further with his colleagues. I haven't heard from him since the story was published. Speaker 1: 05:48 Okay, then. Well, I appreciate it. I've been speaking with Cal matters reporter Jackie Botts. Jackie, thank you for your time. Thank you.

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Tens of thousands of families still owe juvenile justice fees that the state has since abolished.
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