High Pain, No Gain: How Juvenile Administrative Fees Harm Low-Income Families in Alameda County, California

March 2016
By UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic

National attention is focused on racial and economic discrimination in the criminal justice system. Racially disproportionate interaction with the system leaves people of color with significantly more court-related debt. While criminal court debt has been described and condemned in the adult system, this issue has received virtually no attention in the juvenile system, where fees undermine rehabilitative goals. This report presents research findings about the practice of assessing and collecting fees on families with youth in the juvenile system in Alameda County, California. The county charges these fees to thousands of families who are already struggling to maintain economic and social stability, and the financial burden appears to fall most heavily on families of color. Although the fees are supposed to help the county recoup expenses, its own data suggest that the county barely recovers the most direct costs of collection. The report calls for an immediate moratorium and repeal on the assessment and collection of these regressive and racially discriminatory fees. (NB: On March 29, 2016, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors imposed a fees moratorium and asked the relevant county departments to prepare for a full repeal by June 28, 2016.)