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Families of Incarcerated Youth Facing Debt

La Opinión, News Report, Yurina Rico, Translated by Suzanne Manneh Posted: Jan 24, 2009

Having a child in juvenile hall is painful enough, but it is even more difficult when poor families have to pay Los Angeles County $25 for each day their child is locked up.

Isaac Gonzalez, who is 41 and works at a supermarket, received a bill of $5,000 for the six months his teenage son was at the juvenile detention center in Sylmar.

"At first they told me I could pay $50 a month, but then I got a monthly bill of $500. I have no other option but to find some way to pay it. What worries me is that I also have 12-year-old daughter to take care of," said Gonzalez.

A fight at school last year led Ivan, who is now 18, to serve time in a juvenile correctional facility.

"I wouldn't mind paying if my son had learned to be better, to overcome it. But the truth is, they (juveniles detained) come out worse. He's working now, but I'm afraid he’ll have problems again, because while you’re inside (juvenile detention center) you learn other things you shouldn't," said Gonzalez.

According to a report by the Youth Justice Coalition, based in Lynwood, the Los Angeles Probation Department of juvenile corrections charges families of young detainees an average of $775 per month.

"The families are being forced to pay $25 a day supposedly for the soap, towels, clothes and other things juvenile inmates use, but in reality, these things don't cost that much because they're low quality," said Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition, an organization that helps young people leaving prison to find jobs and start over.

According to the study, more than 95 percent of the families who have children in juvenile corrections are poor. These families receive government assistance or have low incomes.

"When a youth leaves the detention center, he or she is faced with a lot of family stress. Young people have to face the financial burden that caused his or her arrest and this adds more stress to their lives," said McGill.

According to the coalition, in order to operate juvenile detention centers, the county receives funds from the federal government and state and local taxes, which amount to about $50,000 a year. The cost to taxpayers is $150,000 per year and about $7,000 for the families of incarcerated youth.

La Opinión asked to speak with the Los Angeles Probation Department, but did not receive an answer. However, the Probation Department’s Web site says that the "Juvenile Reimbursement Unit has been established for the purpose of charging an incarcerated minor’s parents or legal guardians costs the minor generates while in custody at a Los Angeles juvenile detention center. "

This is authorized under Section 903 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code.

Section 903 of the Code states, "The father, mother, spouse, or other person liable for the support of a minor, the estate of that person, and the estate of the minor, shall be liable for the reasonable costs of support of the
minor while the minor is placed, or detained in, or committed to, any
institution or other place pursuant to Section 625 or pursuant to an
order of the juvenile court.”

According to the official site, the amount determined for parents to pay is based on the correspondence of the financial statement cost of detention, ordered by the Juvenile Court.

The Juvenile Reimbursement Unit is also responsible for answering any questions and determining the payment capacity of the person responsible for the minor.

"There is no doubt that the financial consequences are disastrous for families," said McGill.

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