The Department of Justice’s Office for Access to Justice, Office of Justice Programs, and Office for Civil Rights recently issued an advisory about the levying of fines and fees on juveniles. Of note, the advisory acknowledges that juveniles are generally unable to pay fines and fees themselves and that these court costs burden families that may already have difficulty paying for things like “food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities.” Further, court costs may “foreclose educational opportunities for system-involved youth or other family members.” It also points out that fines and fees actually increase the risk of recidivism rather than help rehabilitate youth.
Given the negative impact of court debt on juveniles, the offices issued five recommendations to Department-funded juvenile courts and juvenile justice agencies based on the principles articulated in an earlier letter.
1. Juvenile justice agencies should presume that young people are unable to pay fines and fees and only impose them after an affirmative showing of ability to pay.
2. Before juvenile justice agencies punish youth for failing to pay fines and fees, they must first determine ability to pay, considering factors particularly applicable to youth.
3. Juvenile justice agencies should not condition entry into a diversion program or another alternative to adjudication on the payment of a fee if the youth or the youth's family is unable to pay the fee.
4. Juvenile justice agencies should collect data on race, national origin, sex, and disability to determine whether the imposition of fines and fees has an unlawful disparate impact on juveniles or their families.
5. Juvenile justice agencies should consider whether the imposition or enforcement of fines and fees in any particular case comports with the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system.
Read the advisory in its entirety here.