Erasing criminal justice fees

Students at Johanna Boss High School in Stockton graduate behind razor wire at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton. Photo by Charlotte West for CalMatters

By Jackie Botts

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 1869 would stop counties from collecting administrative fees charged to adults in the criminal justice system, such as for booking and arrest, work release programs, home detention, electronic monitoring, and public defenders. This bill would take effect July 1, 2021, and sets aside $65 million annually for the next five years to backfill revenues counties will lose as a result of the change. It replaces a more ambitious proposal by Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat, that sought to repeal all criminal administrative fees. 

SB 1290 would wipe away all debt owed by parents for the costs of their children’s incarceration in the juvenile justice system, such as daily stays in juvenile facilities or the cost of electronic monitoring bracelets. The bill by Mitchell and fellow Los Angeles Democrat Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, builds on Mitchell’s 2018 law that ended the practice of charging such fees in the juvenile justice system, but didn’t require counties to forgive fees that parents were charged before 2018.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

A coalition of anti-poverty and criminal justice reform groups have supported both measures. 

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Both currently faced no public opposition. Lobbies for county governments previously opposed the bill to repeal adult criminal justice fees, but reversed course once they got assurance they’d get a backfill. 

WHY IT MATTERS

As Newsom has pledged to close California’s youth prison system and reform its adult justice system, criminal justice advocates have pushed for the end of these fees — which counties can collect by intercepting tax refunds, levying bank accounts, and garnishing wages — arguing they burden former inmates trying to re-enter society and disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. A handful of counties have recently eliminated the adult fees and cleared the juvenile fee debt as a way to relieve financial burdens for low-income residents.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Newsom signed AB 1869 bill on Sept. 18 and SB 1290 on Sept. 30.