FILE - Inslee signing law

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs a measure.

(The Center Square) – Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill that ends the practice of “parent pay” – that is, requiring parents to pay for their child’s incarceration with a portion of their gross income.

Requested by the state Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), the bill received broad bipartisan support, passing 85-13 in the House and 41-6 in the Senate.

Inslee signed it into law on Thursday.

House Bill 2050 repeals the 45-year-old practice described in the legislation itself as representing “a dated policy and philosophy that is not aligned with current racial equity and social justice reforms. Pursuing these parents is unfair and takes advantage of people at their most vulnerable, undermining government credibility and the integrity of  the legal process. Placing these parents in debt may also result in unstable home environments, deterring successful youth reentry back into the community.”

The bill also repeals parent pay fees for children incarcerated at the county level and forgives more than $1 million in debt for more than 200 families statewide, according to a legislative summary from Virginia Barry, policy and government affairs manager for Stand for Children Washington (SFCW), one of the advocacy groups that supported DCYF’s push for the bill’s passage.

Kia Franklin, SFCW’s executive director, agreed with the bill’s assessment that parent pay is antiquated and harmful.

“It’s having a bad impact on families and kids,” Franklin said of the parent pay policy.

Only about 20% of people actually pay, she explained, noting those that can’t pay often end up “with credit dings and wages being garnished.”

What ends up happening, she said, is that DCYF foots the bill and then asks the legislature to recoup its funds through the state budget.

The fees are intended to help cover the cost of a youth’s incarceration and treatment while confined. But because only a small proportion of parents are assessed, and an even smaller portion of them actually pay on time, DCYF has for a while now incorporated the full price of juvenile detention into its spending plans. Abolishing parent fees would require about $5 million over the next six years, according to the agency.

According to HB 2050’s fiscal note summary, Chelan County’s annual parent pay revenue collections have steadily declined over the years. In 2011, that figure was $22,000. By 2019, it was down to $14,257. In 2020, it was $11,831, and last year it was $8,703.

“DCYF has been working to eliminate practices that are harmful to children and their families, and particularly those practices that are financially stupid,” said DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter in a press release. “Requiring parents to pay for the incarceration of their children is a prime example – it probably costs more to collect than we bring in and may make it less likely for youth to reunify with their families, destabilizing their transition back to the community. We’re excited the Legislature repealed it!”

Staff Reporter

Brett Davis reports on Washington state government for The Center Square. He previously worked for public policy organizations the Freedom Foundation and Washington Farm Bureau, as well as various community newspapers.