After hearing from advocates from UC Berkeley’s law clinic, The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a moratorium on administrative fees levied against the parents of juvenile offenders.
The moratorium will go into effect on Nov. 1 and will also block the probation department from collecting on past due and outstanding fees, which have mushroomed to $8.55 million total since 1990.
Parents of incarcerated children have been charged up to $30 per day of lockup and $17 per day for an electronic monitoring system during probation, often totaling thousands of dollars by the time the sentence is completed. Although those fees were assessed on a sliding scale based on ability to pay, parents and advocates at the meeting said it still placed an added financial hardship on many families who were already struggling to make ends meet.
Mariana Cuevas, who has a child in the Contra Costa juvenile detention system, spoke through an interpreter to the board about the burden of the fees, saying she felt “cut in half” by the absence of her children and associated costs.
The temporary moratorium, which will be reconsidered in February, does not effect juvenile restitution fees, which go toward the victim of a crime to compensate for economic loss.
The Probation Collections Unit, which was assigned to collect on current and past due fees, operated at a cost of $500,000 per year and brought the county $230,000 in revenue. Without the money coming in, that four-member unit will likely be disbanded and moved to other departments, the board said.
Several other counties in California have approved similar moratoriums, including Alameda County and Santa Clara County, following research that shows the fees disproportionately affect people of color and low-income families.
“These fees harm kids and families and they undermine the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system,” said Jeff Selbin, a law professor at UC Berkeley who studied the effects. The poverty law clinic at the university published an exhaustive analysis of the fees earlier this year.
Until Tuesday, Contra Costa County had some of the highest fees in the state. In the coming months, the board will continue to analyze the fee’s effects on families and the impact dropping them will have to the juvenile justice system.
“I think this county is moving toward the right direction,” said Jerry Elster, who advocates for the formerly incarcerated. “If you want to address risk behavior, delinquent behavior, the best way is through implement things that are going to be proactive towards teaching life skills and vocational skills.”
Gillian Edevane covers Contra Costa County for NBC Bay Area. Contact her at Gillian.Edevane@NBCuni.com.