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

March 2017
By Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic

This report describes the practice of charging and collecting juvenile administrative fees in California, including impacts to youth and families as well as local governments. The report uses the term “administrative fees” to de­scribe the charges imposed by local jurisdictions on families for their child’s involvement in the juve­nile system. State law permits counties to charge administrative fees for legal representation, deten­tion, and probation, but only to families with the ability to pay. Most counties in California charge these administrative fees, imposing millions of dollars of debt on families with youth in the juvenile system. This research over the past three years reveals that juvenile administrative fees undermine the re­habilitative purpose of the juvenile system. Counties charge these fees to families already struggling to maintain economic and social stability. Fee debt becomes a civil judgment upon assessment. If families do not pay the fees, counties refer the debt to the state Franchise Tax Board, which garnishes parents’ wages and intercepts their tax refunds. Under state law, these fees are meant to help protect the fiscal integrity of counties. They are not supposed to be retributive (to punish the family), rehabilitative (to help the youth), or restorative (to repay victims).