Probation fees allegedly continue despite moratorium

Children's advocates say the Los Angeles County Probation Department has continued to bill parents of youths held in detention despite a moratorium imposed last month on such charges.

The complaints come as county supervisors today are scheduled to consider the appointment of personnel to review the department's billing practices, consult with advocates and recommend changes.

Probation Chief Robert Taylor declared the moratorium on Feb. 13 after The Times and advocates raised questions about improper billing.

By law, counties can bill parents and legal guardians for certain daily detention costs. In Los Angeles, supervisors set the daily charges -- $11.94 for camps, $23.63 for halls.

Counties can seize state tax refunds and place liens on parents' homes to recover probation debts -- but only if parents can afford to pay. Those who cannot afford to pay are entitled to meet with county financial evaluators and request a court hearing.

Kim McGill of the nonprofit Inglewood-based Youth Justice Coalition said several parents have brought her new probation bills in recent days, as well as paperwork showing that the department seized tax returns after the moratorium.

"It's hard for us to know how widespread this is," she said.

Taylor said the Probation Department has not mailed new bills or seized tax refunds since the moratorium, but officials are continuing to collect on old bills.

Parents who believe that they have been mistakenly billed should contact the department or appeal in Juvenile Court, he said.

Taylor has said he intends to resume billing and has already proposed increasing daily bills by about 24% at the county's 22 probation halls and camps. Those facilities house about 3,600 youths.

Before those changes occur, Supervisors Gloria Molina and Michael Antonovich want to form a Juvenile Reimbursement Working Group to determine whether probation billing is "appropriate, reasonable and fiscally prudent."

Last year, the county spent nearly $900,000, excluding legal fees, to collect only $2.6 million of the $23.6 million owed.

The group would include officials from the county's juvenile courts, county counsel, the Department of Children and Family Services, and several other county agencies.

Parents and advocates support the plan, which supervisors are scheduled to consider today, but said they should also serve on the group.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky agreed.

"The county would be well-served by having input from people who don't agree with how the county is doing business," he said. "It might save us some time and lawsuits down the road."

Molina and Taylor, who supports the proposal, said the group should not include advocates because of confidentiality and other legal concerns.


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