Parents of former juvenile offenders in Los Angeles County could get a big break on Tuesday, if the County Board of Supervisors approves a motion cancelling detention fee collection permanently.

Juvenile detention fees were once charged to parents of juvenile offenders for the incarceration of their children, with Los Angeles levying a $25 fee for every day a juvenile offender is locked up. A moratorium put an end to the practice in 2009, but collection of fees dating to before 2009 has continued.

According to a report prepared by the County, those accounts total to nearly $89 million in pre-2009
juvenile detention debts. However, only about $120,000 is collected annually, less than one percent. Meanwhile, collecting that money can often prove more expensive in the long run. Los Angeles County often spends tens of thousands of dollars to collect amounts as low as $1,000, and last year, Santa Clara County, in the heart of Silicon Valley, spent $450,000 to collect $400,000.

That discrepancy motivated Santa Clara County to discontinue its collections program, but experts say there’s an even better reason to let families and offenders off the hook. According to the County, fees disproportionately target economically disadvantaged families, and can become a heavy burden over time.

Even federal authorities are weighing in. Last year, a federal court stepped in to stop Orange County from collecting fees from resident Maria Rivera, even after she’d declared bankruptcy.

In its ruling last year, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the fees took “advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable.” Los Angeles County leaders agree.

“There is compelling evidence that the administrative fees related to detention undermine youth rehabilitation and public safety, increase the financial insecurity of vulnerable families, and is correlated to higher recidivism rates,” Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn wrote in a letter accompanying the motion.

Parents and guardians can expect to be notified if the motion passes and their accounts closed, Solis and Hahn wrote.


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