After mulling over the issue for almost a year, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted in favor of permanently repealing fees levied against the parents of juvenile offenders.
Called the Juvenile Cost of Care Fee, the fine was imposed on parents whose child was incarcerated at Juvenile Hall in Martinez or Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility in Byron. Parents or legal guardians were billed up to $30 per day of lockup and $17 per day for an electronic monitoring system worn during probation, potentially totaling thousands of dollars by the time the minor completed punishment.
The fee was halted in October, while the Board debated whether to continue it, lessen it, or repeal it completely.
Criminal justice reform advocates have long been pushing for a full repeal, citing studies that show the fines disproportionately burden people of color and low-income families. By voting unanimously to repeal it, Contra Costa follows in the footsteps of Alameda and Santa Clara counties.
Earlier this month, The California State Legislature passed a bill to repeal all administrative fees for juvenile defendants under the age of 21. It was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 7 and is awaiting his signature.
Supervisor Karen Mitchoff was initially torn on the issue but was swayed to vote in favor of repeal after looking at research and hearing testimony from families.
"The fee really didn't serve a purpose," Mitchoff said. "I do think parents have a responsibility for their child's welfare, even if they are in our custody. But my concern was that some parents would have to pay it, and others won't. So we just made it so nobody is going to have to pay it."
Until the moratorium, Contra Costa County had some of the highest fees in the state. A UC Berkeley study found that more than 200 families were charged after receiving not-guilty verdicts or having charges dismissed. The total collected from exonerated youth was more than $58,000.
Nancy Ybarra, who is one of six children, she said she vividly remembers her mother struggling to pay her brother’s probation fees. Ybarra said it felt wrong that the county had been profitting from young people and their families during stressful situations.
“Although my brother made mistakes and did what he did, my mom didn’t have the money to pay for it,” Ybarra said. “It cost a lot, even to the point where my brother felt like he needed to go out and get the money just because it was so much.”
She’s glad the county is taking steps to fix what she described as a "broken system." Ybarra added that she would also be in favor of the county reimbursing all families for the fines, though there are no current plans within the county for that to occur.
Richmond City Council member Melvin Willis, who is also a member of Richmond’s Racial Justice Coalition, came to speak in favor of the repeal. He agreed that there should be some form of remittance for families who paid the fees.
“The county was charging families these fees before conviction,” Willis said. “Those families that were forced to pay need to be paid back by the county as well.”
Like the moratorium, which was set to end in the coming months, the permanent ban will block the probation department from collecting on past due and outstanding fees, which grew to $8.55 million total since 1990. It does not alter juvenile restitution fees, which go toward the victim of a crime to compensate for economic loss.
The Probation Collections Unit, 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, a third of which was funneled back into youth services. Without the money coming in, that four-member unit will likely be disbanded and moved to other departments, the board said in October.