Juvenile Centers can cost more than a child’s future. Oftentimes, there’s also a literal price tag attached to incarceration. In Los Angeles, families of kids in juvie had to pay $26.63 a day before 2009, when the county banned the practice. In the years following, however, the government there continued collecting debts incurred before the law was passed. That changed earlier this month when L.A. County supervisors voted to wipe out the fee debt.
On October 9, Los Angeles County supervisors voted to stop collecting juvenile delinquent fees, canceling nearly $90 million in fees. The motion, sponsored by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn, aims to help families of formerly detained children get back on their feet.
“Collecting fees for juvenile detention undermines youth rehabilitation and public safety,” Solis said in a statement. “It also unnecessarily increases the financial insecurity of vulnerable families. As part of a larger, transformative reexamination of how we serve our justice-involved residents, including our re-entry population, L.A. County is reexamining our approach to juvenile justice. Today’s action helps families and our youth in detention while setting up future generations for success rather than incarceration.”
The move is also being praised by criminal justice advocates, who say detention fees, in addition to hitting marginalized Black and poor communities the hardest, don’t contribute to rehabilitation.
“The two main purposes of the juvenile justice system are to rehabilitate kids and to protect public safety, and it turns out these fees undermine both of those,” Jeffrey Selbin, director of the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, told the Los Angeles Times.
As reported by the newspaper, a study of more than 1,000 young people in Pennsylvania found that the combined cost of fines, fees and/or restitution increase the likelihood of recidivism, the child returning to juvie, within two years.
L.A. County’s decision to forgive the debt of 52,000 accounts is one of the largest discharges to date, and officials hope that it will encourage the rest of the country, where juvenile justice agencies still bill the families of detained youth in 19 states, to follow suit.