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California Gov. Jerry Brown signed 11 crime bills aimed at lowering fines and punishments for juveniles and other offenders.
Most of the legislation helps young people charged with crimes, including one bill that limits counties and cities from collecting fees from families with children in juvenile detention. Parents and guardians will no longer be charged for juvenile hall expenses, such as housing, food, drugs, tests and transportation.
Lawmakers said juvenile penalties and fines have mostly affected low-income and minority families. The legislation follows a recent pattern in the Golden State to help people who are "paying more for being poor."
In addition to lower fines, the new laws will increase parole opportunities and reduce punishment for juveniles. They will also allow courts to seal more juvenile records.
State Sen. Holly Mitchell, a co-sponsor of five bills in the package, said laws should take into account that children often do not understand the gravity of their actions. She said studies show that adolescent brains are not fully matured.
"If one believes that our children will be tomorrow's leaders then we must look through a child-development lens," she said.
Other new laws will require defendants to pay for court-appointed lawyers only if they are convicted, reduce minimum sentences for some firearms and drug offenses, and grant elderly prisoners who have served at least 25 years the possibility of parole.
Brown has been easing criminal penalties since his first tour as governor. This summer, he signed a law that ended driver's license suspensions for failure to pay traffic fines.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area, in a report "Paying More for Being Poor," said that Californians pay the highest traffic fines and fees in the country. A red-light ticket, for example, costs $490 in California -- about $200 more than in New York.
According to reports, 40 percent of Americans cannot afford such an unexpected expense.
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