Youth Justice

Achieve #DebtFreeJustice

Every young person should have the opportunity to learn, grow and pursue the future they envision without being financially handcuffed.

When youth are involved in the justice system, they can be charged thousands of dollars in fees and fines. These costs can include fees charged for many items, including an electronic ankle monitor, detention, probation supervision, and even a public defender. 

The National Center for Youth Law has been challenging the use of fines and fees since 2013. We work to eliminate fees and fines for youth and their families through ongoing impact litigation, policy advocacy and community collaborations.


The National Center for Youth Law leads the Debt Free Justice Campaign in partnership with the UC Berkeley Policy and Advocacy Clinic and Juvenile Law Center. The Debt Free Justice Campaign is dedicated to abolishing the harmful practice of saddling youth and families with fees and fines.

Drowning in debt

By charging fees and fines, the justice system drowns youth and their families in debt and pushes them deeper into poverty. For youth and families who are already experiencing economic hardship, fees and fines can be devastating. Ultimately, this system undermines community health, economic stability, and trust in public systems. 

Deeper system involvement

Unpaid fees and fines can also keep juvenile cases open far longer than they would be otherwise. This is because, if youth and their families can’t pay a fee or fine, they are subjected to increased surveillance and ongoing risk of violations of probation.

The Role of Racism 

Because of targeted policing and over-surveillance of Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, these youth are overrepresented and over-punished in the justice system. As a result, fees and fines disproportionately hurt youth of color and their families. At its core, this is both a racial and an economic justice issue.