Jessica Chavez

Portrait of Jessica Chavez

Photo by Smeeta Mahanti/Debt Free Justice

Jessica Chavez, a program coordinator for the Lawyer Referral Service of Monterey County, bears the weight of fees and fines that have burdened her family. Struggling to make ends meet, her modest means were further strained by the financial implications, particularly for her grandmother and cousin. Her cousin, entrenched in the juvenile justice system since childhood, became entangled in a cycle of incarceration. Even after her grandmother's passing, the family endured the haunting specter of collections. With an undercurrent of anger and sadness, Jessica questions the fairness of subjecting young children to the consequences of circumstances beyond their control, yearning for a more just and equitable system.

Family Member

I don't believe that juveniles as young as 10, 11, 12 should pay the price of truancy or things out of their control because there's no stable home.

Jessica Chavez

Advocate, Family of Impacted Individual


This interview was edited for length and clarity 

DFJ: Could you please share how you’ve been affected by fees and fines? 

JESSICA CHAVEZ:  I have a cousin who has been impacted by most of his life. He's been in juvenile hallsince he was around nine, and he's just been in and out of the system. My grandma passed away three, four years ago and I believe she was still in collections due to fees and fines from his juvenile courts. Juvenile fees and fines affected my family. My grandmother was mostly our caregiver during that time. My cousin was in the juvenile justice system and we were a modest means at that time. Our daily expenses such as groceries and rent were affected. We did not get evicted, but I do remember my grandma trying her best in regards to selling food outside our garage or making yard sales and things like that to make it through the month.  

DFJ: How do you feel about what happened to your family? 

JESSICA: It makes me feel angry. My grandma was an immigrant. She did have a green card by the time she passed, but fees and fines still affected her, and I believe we still get collection bills from it.  I feel that it's not fair, especially when it comes to working families or underprivileged families. A little after her death, we were still getting collections from [fees and fines].  

DFJ: How do you respond to folks out there who say “actions have consequences?” 

JESSICA: I think action should have consequences, but it should definitely match the crime. I don't believe that juveniles as young as 10, 11, 12 should pay the price of truancy or things out of their control because there's no stable home. I think that that doesn't match the sentencing of children. 

My cousin first entered the system around third or fourth grade due to petty theft. He has been in the system ever since. He is now 29, 30 years old and after my grandma's death about four years ago, I believe she was still receiving collections due to his juvenile fees and fines. 

DFJ: What do you want to accomplish in your advocacy work? 

JESSICA: I want to make sure that my voice and my family's voice is heard in regards to policy. 

DFJ: What does Debt Free Justice mean to you? 

JESSICA: The words Debt Free Justice to me means that people won't have to choose between groceries or paying their fines, or paying rent and not being able to get their fees sent to collections. Debt Free Justice also means some type of financial security in regards to being able to meet a working family’s day to day finances. Especially in my experience, money was very tight and so there wasn't enough for fees. 

Debt Free Justice means that that won't be somebody's reality.