Sept. 14, 2017: DAILY BREEZE - Gov. Brown can take step toward juvenile justice reform: Holly Mitchell and Alex Johnson

September 14, 2017

By Holly J. Mitchell and Alex Johnson

When a child commits a crime, we cannot give up on him or her. Our laws, our morality, demand that we respond in a manner that will help the child grow into a productive member of our community.

As a California state senator and president of the Los Angeles County Board of Education, respectively, we have spoken to youth who have been detained and placed on juvenile probation. We have met with families whose children have gone through the system. We have visited juvenile facilities across the state.

From our collective experience, we know — as many do — that our juvenile justice system too often has failed to provide the level of service and care that our children deserve, especially low-income kids and kids of color.

But we did not realize, until recently, the onerous fees families must pay when their child becomes entangled in the juvenile justice system. California law allows counties to charge administrative fees to families whose children have been detained or are serving probation, undergoing drug testing or electronic monitoring.

Most California counties charge these fees, which routinely add up to thousands of dollars for each family and do nothing to promote the stated goals of our juvenile system, which is to promote family cohesion and youth rehabilitation.

A recent study by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at the UC Berkeley School of Law found that such fees impose significant harm on low-income families. The Berkeley study detailed a series of challenges that result from the imposition of such fees: significant financial hardship; guilt and resentment between parents and children; the undermining of crucial family ties, and, in cases where a child has been removed from the home, the sundering of a family.

The financial hardships caused by juvenile fees can force families to choose between paying for food, housing and medical care and paying what the county demands. The fees also hamper the ability of low-income families to pay for important education-related expenses such as tutors, after school programs and athletics.

The juvenile justice system exists to rehabilitate youth and help them learn from and move past youthful lapses in judgement. A stable, secure home life during childhood is critical to a young person’s chances at future success. Juvenile fees undermine family stability, endangering the long-term prospects of our youth.

After several years of pressure, Los Angeles and a handful of other counties have moved to eliminate juvenile fees. However, most of California still imposes these fees on families. This comes despite how the fees are rarely collected from people who can afford to pay it. In fact, records show that many counties actually pay more to collect the fees than they actually collect.

We can change that.

Senate Bill 190, authored by Senators Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, would eliminate counties’ authority to assess these fees, thereby abolishing a source of significant instability for thousands of California youth and their families.

By increasing the likelihood that families with a system-involved child have adequate resources to provide a stable environment, SB190 seeks to help our juvenile justice system meet its most important goal—helping youth become healthy, productive and thriving members of our community.

The Legislature approved SB190 on Sept. 6. We urge Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it, and put an end to this harmful practice.

Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, is a member of the California state Senate, representing District 30. Alex Johnson is president of the Los Angeles County Board of Education.

Link to original op-ed HERE: