WHEN KIDS ARE DOUBLE CHARGED: SHOULD RESTITUTION CHARGES FOR KIDS HAVE A CEILING?
In an investigative series called Double Charged: The True Cost of Juvenile Justice, Youth Radio has looked into some of these suprise costs that suddenly are levied against a kid and his or her parent when that kid finds himself caught up in the juvenile justice system, as the infograpic above shows. (We highlighted an earlier segment here.)
The newest Youth Radio show segment, written and produced by Sayre Quevedo, and co-published by the Huffington Post, looks at how, for many kids in California, in addition to the myriad court and lock-up charges, there is restitution, which can be staggaringly high priced.
Here’s the story:
It is generally agreed that restitution is, in principle anyway, a good and healthy idea for both victims and lawbreakers. For victims, restitution makes up, at least in part, for whatever damage was done them. For lawbreakers it is a tangible reminder that their actions did harm to an actual person or people, and provides them an opportunity to take real world responsibility for their acts.
The principle holds true for juvenile lawbreakers as well as a adults. But when it comes to kids, should there be a limit? States like New York and Missouri say yes. In Missouri caps restitution for juveniles at $4000. New York sets the limit at $1500.
In California, there is no limit—a policy that many juvenile justice activists contend can result in unpayable amounts that do far more harm than good.
Here are some clips:
Ricky Brum stood with one of my producers in an alleyway behind a furniture store in Manteca, California, and to be honest, it was a little awkward. He didn’t really want to be there. Last February, Brum set some cardboard boxes on fire just a few feet away.
“Just that right there,” he said, pointing to a black spot on the pavement. “Just a little burn mark on the floor.”
One match did the trick, said Brum. “Like I just sat there and was like ‘Bam!'”
That “bam” changed Ricky Brum’s life. He was 15 when he set the fire. It was his first time getting in trouble with the law. He was lucky: his charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. Brum went on probation, and didn’t serve any time in juvenile hall.
Brum, and his mom Leanne, thought the worst was behind them. But then, while meeting with their public defender, they found out about restitution.
“We thought it was a joke,” said Leanne Brum.
Sitting at his kitchen table, Ricky Brum flipped through the restitution claim. Even though the fire department report said there was no damage to anything in the furniture store, the owner claimed his entire inventory of nearly 1400 items was smoke damaged.
The bill came out to $221,000….
Payment is rare. There are no statewide statistics on juvenile restitution, but Youth Radio collected numbers from three of California’s largest counties and found that less than 30% of restitution amounts are paid.
“I think that people recognize there are certain dollar amounts that are not going to be paid at all, ever,” said Roger Chan, who runs the East Bay Children’s Law Offices in Oakland. Juvenile law, said Chan, is about reform, giving young people a chance to start over. However, Chan argues that restitution too often gets in the way because it saddles kids with unreasonably high debt.
“If you order such a huge amount of restitution to a young person who has no ability to pay it, how meaningful is that as a consequence,” asked Chan. “Is that really an effective way for the young person to be rehabilitated and is that really beneficial to victims?”
Chan is trying to change California’s law to let judges consider a kid’s ability to pay. It’s not just for the benefit of young offenders. Chan says it’s for victims too, because when restitution sums are realistic, he says victims are more likely to get paid.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS’ VOTES PUT OFF BOTH ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION…AND A CITIZENS COMMISSION TO OVERSEE THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT
The members of the LA County Board of Supervisors were originally scheduled to vote on two closely watched motions, but both votes have now been postponed:
First of all there was Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’s motion of last week, which would cause the Supes to allocate at least the beginning sum of $20 million to launch a “coordinated and comprehensive” mental health diversion program in the county. It has been postponed until next Tuesday, July 29. (You can read the motion here.)
The motion has already attracted letters of support from such organizations as the National Alliance for Mental Illness Los Angeles County Council, and others, urging the board to commit the funds necessary to the kind of diversion programming that has been shown to save money—and suffering—in other counties, most notably Miami-Dade.
(We’ll update you on how the vote is looking as we get closer to next Tuesday.)
At the same time, the vote on the motion to create a citizens commission to provide community oversight for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department—which is co-sponsored by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina—has been put off until August 5.
This column by the LA Times’ Jim Newton looks at topic of the citizens commission, whether is a good idea or not, and whether the motion has a chance of passing.
Here’s a clip from Newton’s column:
The board is split: Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Gloria Molina have expressed support for the commission; supervisors Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich have indicated their opposition. (Jim McDonnell, leading candidate for sheriff, announced his support for the commission this month; Ridley-Thomas endorsed McDonnell a few days later.)
That leaves Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. When we spoke last week, he said he was still pondering the matter, but he’s clearly leaning against it. “I’m reluctant to create structures that have no power and no authority,” he said, adding that such a commission “will ultimately disappoint.”
That may be enough to scotch the idea for the moment, but perhaps not for long. Yaroslavsky is termed out, as is Molina. Molina’s replacement, Hilda Solis, has indicated she supports establishing a commission, so one supporter will arrive as another leaves. More important, the two challengers in a runoff for Yaroslavsky’s seat, former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver and former state legislator Sheila Kuehl, both told me last week that they too support a citizens commission. So even if Ridley-Thomas falls short this time, his third vote may well be on the way.
JOHN OLIVER ON AMERICA’S PRISON SYSTEM
Almost certainly the year’s best 17 minutes of news and information on the American prison situation was contained in a segment shown on Sunday night on….a comedy show, specifically John Oliver’s new-this-spring Last Week Tonight, on HBO.
Oliver hit nearly all the important points brilliantly and hard—using humor to carry all his sharpest points:
“We have more prisoners than China. China. We don’t have more of anything than China, except of course debt to China.”
“Our prison population has expanded 8 fold since 1970. The only thing that has grown at that rate since the ’70’s is varieties of Cheerios!”
And why has it grown? For a number of reasons, he says.
“…From the dismantling of our mental health system, to mandatory minimum sentencing laws….to, of course, drugs. Half the people in federal prison are there on drug charges. And it counts for a quarter of the admissions to state prisons. And, of course, it’s tricky to know how to feel about this because, on the one hand, the war on drugs has completely solved our nation’s drug problem, so that’s good!
“But on the other hand, our drug laws do seem to be a little draconian and a lot racist. Because while white people and African Americans use drug about the same amount, a study has found that african Americans have been sent to prison for drug offenses up to 10 times the amount—-for some utterly known reason.
From there Oliver brought up the prison system’s reluctance to deal with prison rape, the tidy profit made by prison venders—many of whom have been found to boost their bottom line by horrific cuts to basic services, like…um. food—to the inherent unholy conflict of interest that occurs with prison privatization—and more.
In short, the segment is filled with excellent reporting and commentary combined with excellent comedy, all of which serves to illuminate some crucial issues that many of us are unfortunately too content to ignore. Watch and you won’t be sorry.
NEW WEBSITE URGES LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS TO GIVE $$$ SUPPORT TO LASD 6 CONVICTED BY FEDS OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE
A new website called Support Our 6 has appeared in the past few days, urging LASD members to give monetary support to the six members of the LA Sheriff department who were convicted earlier this month.
(Although the website mentions Deputy James Sexton, whose trial ended with a hung jury but who is being retried by the government in September, it isn’t clear if he is included in the fundraising efforts.)
The site’s organizers contend that the 2 deputies, 2 sergeants and 2 lieutenants were following lawful orders, which was not at all what the jury concluded.
We don’t yet know who is behind the website, but we’ll let you know when we know more.
In the meantime, the organizers’ POV is presented here.