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Northam signs bill into law eliminating youth incarceration fees

virginia state capitol
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Virginia law requires families to pay child support to the Department of Social Services for a juvenile who is in the temporary custody of or committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Not making this up.

You can guess who this hits hardest.

“The reality is that these fees were never about raising significant revenue, but instead about punishing poverty. In the context of Virginia’s budget, the money raised from these fees was negligible, yet the hardships they imposed on families were severe. Ending this practice was long overdue,” said Laura Goren, Research Director at The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, an organization that conducts research and advocates for policy reforms to advance racial and economic justice in Virginia.

It was never about reimbursing the state; it’s punitive toward families already struggling to get their kids on the straight and narrow.

Legislation introduced by Arlington Democratic Del. Patrick Hope will end the controversial “pay to stay” anomaly in state law.

Hope’s HB 1912 passed the General Assembly and has now been signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam.

“I’m pleased to lead this effort where Virginia finally eliminates the unconscionable requirement to enforce child support obligations against parents and families of incarcerated youth,” Hope said.

Under the new law, parents are no longer responsible for payments to the state when their children are taken from home and detained or committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

“First, I had no idea this was even a possibility, that I would have to pay anything for my son’s commitment, so you can imagine my surprise when I opened my mail and learned that I had an order to pay the state $735 a month for child support, and I was already in arrears when I received the order in the middle of a pandemic,” one parent said during consideration of the legislation in the General Assembly.

“I didn’t know how I would manage with having three other kids that I’m responsible for. I felt like this would take food right out of my family’s mouths, and it did. I was glad that my son only had a commitment of six months, anything longer and my family would have been homeless and hungry.”

Rachael Deane, director of the Youth Justice Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center, highlighted that requiring payments from families of incarcerated children creates an unfair and extractive tax on Black and Brown communities.

Sixty-seven percent of families who receive these bills are Black; only 22 percent are white.

By eliminating these financial obligations, Virginia will reduce disparities, increase safety, and better support child and family well-being.

“This law ends another unfair and overly punitive practice in Virginia’s juvenile justice system and takes another step toward truly thriving communities that support and uplift all youth,” Deane said.

According to Ebby Stoutmiles, State Policy Advocate at Juvenile Law Center, “A number of jurisdictions are already making their juvenile systems more equitable by eliminating fines and fees.”

In recent years, five states have eliminated fines or fees: California, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Washington.

In addition to Virginia, seven other states have introduced legislation already this year to eliminate fines or fees in the juvenile justice system.

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press