Making Families Pay: The Harmful, Unlawful, and Costly Practice of Charging Juvenile Administrative Fees in California

This report from the Berkeley Policy Advocacy Clinic details California counties’ practice of assessing and collecting fees from families with youth in the California juvenile justice system. The report shows that charging fees to juveniles “undermines the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile system,” perpetuates racial wealth disparities, and often violates California state law. Importantly, the report also analyzes the cost of imposing these fees, concluding that counties tend to spend almost as much as (and sometimes more than) they collect when enforcing the imposition of fees.

You can read the full text of the report here. Related: California abolished juvenile fees in 2018.

Based on our findings, fixing the system is not an option. Charging administrative fees to families with youth in the juvenile system does not serve rehabilitative purposes.

Key Findings
  • California counties did not collect most of the criminal justice debt they assessed to youth and their families, and in some cases, counties spent more than they collected. For example, Santa Clara County’s collections costs constituted 112.72% of its collections revenue ($399,228), and Orange County spent more than 80% of its revenue on collections.
  • California first allowed counties to charge juvenile fees in 1961, and additional fees were created in the 1980s. Counties were not required to charge or collect fees.
  • Charging juvenile fees can undermine family ties and “amplify feelings of anger or resentment.”
  • Juvenile fees are rife with racial disparities. In California, the family of a black youth would pay on average more than double the total amount of fees than a white family would; the family of a Hispanic youth would pay about one and a half times as much.

Orange County billed Maria Rivera $16,372 for her son’s detention and lawyer. Ms. Rivera sold her home to pay the county more than $9,500. When the county pursued the balance of the debt, Ms. Rivera filed for bankruptcy. Even after bankruptcy, Orange County continued to pursue the debt until a federal court ordered the county to stop.

  • California should repeal laws that permit juvenile fines and fees.
  • Counties should reimburse families for all payments they made on juvenile fees.
  • The state of California and California counties should collect and maintain better data on the juvenile justice system.
Berkeley Policy Advocacy Clinic