Fault Lines
21 June 2017

Local Governments Bill Parents for Kids’ Jail Stays

March 6, 2017 (Fault Lines) – Counties across the country are having parents foot the bill for the costs associated with keeping Junior in lockup. Following their kids’ “stay” at a juvenile facility, parents are being summoned by the city’s lawyers and then told that they need to pay for the government’s accommodations, no matter how Spartan the conditions at the jail.

The rationale? Well, ask Philly lawyer and mayoral collection agent Steven Kaplan, who is in charge of the (un)enviable task of making the city completely whole after children are warehoused in its juvie detention centers. Using some bizarre rationale that equates child support with incarceratory costs, while ignoring a civil litigator’s maxim that “you can’t get blood from a rock,” Kaplan remains undeterred, as reported by The Marshall Project:

One of those parents was Jonelle Mills, a single mother and janitor whose teenage daughter has been in and out of juvenile facilities for over two years. Mills said Kaplan billed her nearly $3,000 for those stays and now the city is garnishing her paycheck. She also said her child returned home “institutionalized” and physically aggressive.

“What did I just pay for exactly?” she said. “It clearly didn’t buy any kind of rehabilitation.”

To Kaplan, that was still the wrong question.

For 18 years, he said in the earlier interview, parents are obligated to pay for whatever housing their children are in — even if it’s a jail.

“Child support is child support is child support,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter if the kid lives with Mom, Dad, Aunt Betsy, or with me — Uncle Steve — in detention.”

Who the hell made Kaplan “Uncle Steve”? In the shriveled core of Kaplan’s tiny, constipated mind, child support arrears are accrued while a kid is in a juvenile detention center in the same manner as when a child stays with a parent, a relative, or — as he creepily refers to himself when equating a jail stay with a stay in his abode — with “Uncle Steve.”

It’s obvious he’s going for a punchline while discussing a grim subject that involves caging children (and failing miserably in his delivery), but one wonders just how petty and joyless Kaplan’s literal mind has to be to say something like that. It’s even well below the lame gallows humor that’s often employed by the prison screws.

Now, the kicker with this scheme of going after the parents’ pockets is that they’re still saddled with a bill even when the state is unable to prove the child’s delinquency.[1]

That’s right folks, even when the child remains innocent in the eyes of a judge at the end of juvenile proceedings,[2] the city still goes into collection mode and comes after the parents.

Of course, this throws any notions of presumed-innocent-until-proven-guilty delinquent right out of the window. Your child was accosted, illegally detained and arrested by the cops, but later found innocent by the judge? To hell with that, and get your checkbook out, or else we will garnish your wages. Your boy got picked up on a bogus truancy charge by an anal-retentive cop with his nose on the rulebook? It makes no difference, as you will still have to deal with micro-megalomaniacs like Kaplan who will then garnish whatever pittance you make cleaning toilets.

What makes this collection scheme all the worse is the pointlessness of it all. It’s generally children of the poor who get collared, and thus the city ends up collecting small sums per month from each parent. It also makes the system look even more vindictive and petty (yes, that is possible) in the eyes of its constituency.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, while ruling in favor of a mother who ended up filing bankruptcy after the state her son racked up $9,500.00 in jail costs in California’s Orange County, gives us the proper perspective, in spades:

Seeking to obtain that revenue by unremittingly pursuing legal actions against disadvantaged individuals – the counterproductive practice at issue here – can have damaging effects on the community. Not only does such a policy unfairly conscript the poorest members of society to bear the costs of public institutions, operating “as a regressive tax,” but it takes advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable, essentially imposing “a tax upon distress.” Moreover, experience shows that the practice undermines the credibility of government and the perceived integrity of the legal process.

And from the everyone-is-worse-off department that’s become part of America’s correctional system: these kids don’t come out any better off than when they came in. Hence Jonelle Mills’ question of “What did I pay for exactly?” after her kid came out more violence-prone at the end of her stay at club juvie.

Thus, a question for the screws and collection agents for these detention centers, some of which still dehumanize “their” child inmates with practices such as solitary confinement: Where do you get the face, the nerve to come after the parents?[3]

[1] In criminal juvenile proceedings, if a child pleads out or is found guilty of the offense charged, he is deemed “delinquent” instead of “guilty.”

[2] In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court held in McKeiver v. Pennsylvania that juveniles were not entitled to a jury trial under the 6th or 4th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Hence, every juvenile trial is a bench trial.

[3] Shortly after The Marshall Project’s story was published in The Washington Post, the city of Philadelphia announced it would no longer bill parents for the costs of their children’s incarceration.

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