ACLU-WA Opposes Making Parents Pay Costs of Incarcerating Children

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

At its June meeting the ACLU-WA Board of Directors adopted a policy opposing laws that require parents to make financial contributions toward the costs of their child’s incarceration by federal, state, or local authorities. The policy recognizes that incarceration because of the child’s anti-social behavior or need for rehabilitation is a state function conducted for the public benefit.

"Imposing the costs of this function on a single family is arbitrary, unfair, and amounts to inappropriate punishment of that family and constitutes differential treatment of citizens in a way that denies equal protection of the laws," the policy states. "Moreover, the ACLU-WA recognizes that the practice of charging an individual or family for the cost of the individual’s incarceration is characteristic of totalitarian societies and is incompatible with the goal of a modern and humane penal system."

The ACLU-WA began developing policy on this issue in the spring of 1998 when a family sought help in resisting attempts to bill them for the costs of their son’s incarceration. Although a judge found that the parents had made extraordinary efforts to help their son and were not responsible for his behavior problems, they were ordered to pay nearly $800 per month toward the costs of his incarceration in a juvenile prison. The ACLU-WA provided legal assistance to the family, and the case was eventually resolved by settlement. However, the law requiring parents to pay the costs of their child’s incarceration (RCW 13.40.220) remains in force, and many other states have similar statutes.

The committee drafting the board policy consisted of Russ Aoki, David Fathi, Peter Greenfield, Tom Hillier, and Jim Lobsenz.