Advocates push to eliminate state fees charged to families of incarcerated youth | Local
For years, parents of some children incarcerated in Washington’s juvenile rehabilitation centers have been required to pay a percentage of their gross income to the Department of Children, Youth, and Families.
The funds are meant to cover some of the treatment and residential services the child uses while incarcerated.
But the monetary benefit for DCYF is small, said Allison Krutsinger, DCYF’s director of government affairs and community engagement. The department receives about $1 million a year from these fees, or about a quarter of what is collected.
The requirement also disproportionately affects low-income families and people of color, she said.
The department is asking the Legislature to get rid of the fees and fill the state’s general fund funding shortfall, Krutsinger said. Senate Bill 5535 would also cancel all outstanding debts related to these charges.
A legal “relic”
DCYF and Washington advocacy groups are pushing for repeal in a call for a fairer system for those involved in the juvenile justice system.
Krutsinger said the pricing model does not align with DCYF’s current goals, which prioritize fairness.
“I describe it as a relic of old status,” she said. “It was a law that was passed in 1977, so kind of in the age of crime and punishment, if you will.”
The Parent Pay Act disproportionately affects low-income families who struggle to pay these fines and fees, Krutsinger said. It also affects black, Hispanic, and Native American households more, as members of these groups make up a disproportionate number of incarcerated people.
The Center for Children and Youth Justice, a juvenile justice reform group in Washington, supports the repeal. CCYJ President Rachel Sottile said the Washington justice system’s youth programs aim to rehabilitate young offenders. However, fines create a financial burden on families, further tying people to the incarceration system.
“For a family to have to choose between fines and fees and expunging their child’s criminal record or… between food, shelter or basic necessities is unfair, unjust and frankly unfair,” she said.
She said Washington has positioned itself as a leader in social justice and legal reform and that these fees must be repealed to live up to that reputation.
Lawyers said many people are unaware that this law exists. Stand for Children Washington, the state chapter of a national education and child welfare advocacy group, expressed support for the DCYF’s attempt to repeal the law. Part of this support includes raising awareness.
“We feel like this is going to bring that to light and basically solve a problem that most people don’t even know is happening, but it really does put a very detrimental burden on young people and their families,” he said. said Virginia Barry, head of the organization. Director of Policy and Government Affairs.
Teresa Harmon, a lawyer with youth advocacy and legal aid group Team Child, said Yakima had a higher than average rate of people living in poverty. About 14.8% of Yakima County residents live below the poverty line, while statewide that number is about 9.5%, according to Census Bureau data.
The higher poverty rate means these fees are likely to have a disproportionate effect on local families.
“I think it’s specifically impacted by this parent pay law and just continues to mire people in poverty,” Harmon said.
Future of fees
For Sottile and the CCYJ team, the repeal of the statewide Parental Compensation Act is part of a larger attempt to end fines and fees in the juvenile justice system. .
“This is just the beginning,” she said. “Now is the time, and now more than ever, it is essential for us to begin to take action that aligns with fair, just and just criminal legal systems for young people and adults alike.”
DCYF’s proposed bill would still allow counties to collect fines and fees from families of incarcerated youths. Yakima County collected $5,991 in statutory financial obligation fees in the 2019-20 fiscal year, according to data collected by Stand for Children Washington.
The bill received its first hearing last week at the Senate Committee on Human Services, Reintegration and Rehabilitation.
DCYF lawyers and staff said the bill’s prospects are good.
“I’ve been wrong once or twice in my life, but I’m very optimistic,” DCYF’s Krutsinger said. “The dynamic is good. We have good allies and good defenders on our side who have worked on that.”