The New Year promises to be much brighter for Mariana Cuevas, a housekeeper from Antioch, and hundreds of other families in Contra Costa County.
These families, the community and advocates are celebrating the decision by the board of supervisors to refund families who were improperly charged a fee to pay for their children’s incarceration from 2010 to mid-2016.
The county stopped charging such fees in 2017 and in many cases, families were forced to pay, even when it was proved the child did nothing wrong. For example, Mariana was charged nearly $10,000 for her son’s detention. He was later found not guilty. In other cases, families were charged fees but not assessed for their ability to pay, nor notified of an appeal process, in violation of the law. An estimated 465 families are due refunds totaling $136,000. The county is also forgiving $8.5 million in past unpaid debt related to such fees.
Mariana Cuevas, who was billed nearly $10,000 for locking up her son for more than 300 days in juvenile detention. He was later found not guilty. Photo credit: Biz Herman
While local governments are now having to limit imposing “cost-of-confinement” fees for juveniles caught up in the system, thanks to state legislation signed by Gov. Brown last October, this is the first time in California, and perhaps the nation, that a local municipality is taking the additional step of paying families back, with interest, for improperly charged fees.
Young people, families, and community advocates deserve credit for continuing to push on local and state legislators to call into question harmful practices that serve to further marginalize poor, primarily Black and Latino families.
The California Endowment grantees and Healthy Richmond partners, Reentry Solutions Group and Contra Costa Racial Justice Coalition, provided the research, policy analysis, and grassroots advocacy to build the momentum and political consensus behind the county’s decision.
Looking forward to 2018, local partners are working hard to ensure that the county puts in place a clear and easy claim system for affected families to receive restitution. Local youth organizations are developing materials to help spread the word. The Endowment applauds Contra Costa County leaders for taking a stand in support of justice and fairness, and encourages other jurisdictions to follow suit.