Families whose children are under house arrest will no longer be charged a fee to offset the cost of monitoring equipment, the Johnson County Commission has decided.
To make things more fair for all income levels, commissioners voted to repeal a 2011 rule requiring the fee.
“We should not have placement in detention dependent on whether or not a youth and family can afford the house arrest fee,” said Betsy Gillespie, director of the county corrections department.
Under the previous rule, parents paid fees ranging from $4 to $9 a day, based on their income. But families supporting other children and having trouble making ends meet often couldn’t make the payments, and collection has been difficult, Gillespie said.
That can lead to anger and resentment between the parents and the youths, which is counterproductive to the work the county is doing to help those kids function in society, she said.
The fees don’t come close to paying for the entire cost of the electronic monitors. In 2016, Gillespie said the county collected a little over $35,000 from families but still paid $68,000 for equipment rental.
The change can be made with little impact to the county’s bottom line because of other budget changes at the state level. The Kansas Department of Corrections recently agreed to take over what the county was paying to lease monitoring devices and some other associated costs of house arrest. So ending the fees won’t put a burden on the county, she said, adding that she would like to put the savings into the youth court.
Juvenile justice practices have been evolving away from detention for low-risk youths and more toward house arrest and other forms of supervision that also involves the families. Corrections experts have said that detention does more harm than good for youths who pose no danger to the communities.
Gillespie said the charging of fees interferes with family relationships and also disproportionately affects minorities. The corrections department is engaged in an intensive 18-month study to find and change things that lead to an over-representation of Hispanic and African American youths in juvenile detention.
The removal of fees, “goes along with what we’re trying to do to make youths successful. Why a youth is in detention should be based on their risk,” she said.
“For a long time we’ve wanted to do this. To me it’s just what’s right for the kids and for their families.”