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Contra Costa County will stop forcing families to pay for incarcerated kids

The decision was unanimous.

Contra Costa County will stop forcing families to pay for incarcerated kids

The decision was unanimous.


Contra Costa County will no longer impose the Juvenile Cost of Care Fee, which has forced countless families to hand over hundreds — sometimes thousands — of dollars for kids in detention or serving probation. On Tuesday, nearly a year after a moratorium on imposing the fees was announced, the county’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to do away with them entirely.

Throughout California, Black juveniles are arrested at four times the rate of white juveniles and spend more time in detention or monitored on probation. In a report published last March, the University of California-Berkeley painted a bleak picture of Contra Costa County’s juvenile fees, specifically. By the time the moratorium went into effect last November, approximately 6,900 families were in debt. Parents and guardians were chalking up $30 a day for a kid to be housed in a juvenile detention facility, regardless of whether or not they were adjudicated for a crime. Probation also came with steep costs — to the tune of $17 a day for electronic monitoring. Collectively, the families of youth found not-guilty over a four-year period shelled out $58,172 for administrative fees. In 2015, the average length of stay was 36.65 days.

Less than one-third of the revenue was funneled into youth support.

Researchers and juvenile justice advocates have long argued that administrative fees do more harm than good. In addition to forcing poor families into debt, there are collateral consequences for the kids involved. According to the Juvenile Law Center, young people incurring these fees are more likely to recidivate. In California, specifically, fees have also resulted in individual cases lasting longer than they should, and juveniles are detained longer than what their cases warrant. Additional fines are also imposed on them — and their families — when the initial fees are not paid.

With their vote on Tuesday, Contra Costa County supervisors showed that they understand the human costs of this financial burden.

“The fee really didn’t serve a purpose,” Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, who was reportedly on the fence, 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.”

The decision comes on the heels of a major vote in the California State legislature to repeal all administrative fees for juvenile defendants under the age of 21. The bill passed in the Senate and Assembly early this month, and now rests with Gov. Jerry Brown.