Success and Impact

National 'Debt Free Justice' Campaign Launches To End Juvenile Fees And Fines

Two young people clasping hands in a greeting

A nationwide “Debt Free Justice” campaign was launched in 2021, with a critically important mission to end the harmful practice of saddling youth and families with court fees and fines, and the National Center for Youth Law is proud to stand among its leaders.

With the unveiling of, the campaign’s broad coalition of organizers are committed to encouraging lawmakers and advocates across the country to join the fight against these regressive court fees, which push youth and their families deeper into poverty and disproportionately impact communities of color.

The website features tools, sample legislation, framing of the issue, and ways to get involved. Additionally, it serves to educate policymakers and provide them with a road map for ending this punitive practice in their own jurisdictions.

The campaign organizers work to accomplish this important goal through:

Policy Advocacy: Through partnering with grassroots organizations and other local advocates to change state laws and local policies regarding the imposition of fees and fines in the justice system.

Litigation: Campaign members file lawsuits on behalf of youth and their families when they are being charged unconstitutional or otherwise illegal fees and fines. The campaign also supports public defenders and other attorneys who represent youth by assisting with appellate and amicus briefs.

Research: The campaign provides research to advocates and attorneys working to eliminate fees and fines, including research on the impact that fees and fines have on youth and their families, fiscal research, and research on the impact of ending fees and fines.

“The launch of this campaign is right on time because these fees and fines are devastating to families and communities,” said Michael Harris, an attorney and Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and Juvenile Justice at NCYL.

Long road

NCYL has long been a leader in the fight to abolish harmful fees and fines.

In 2013, NCYL — alongside co-counsel Texas Appleseed and Disability Rights Texas — represented students in Dallas County (Texas) truancy court in a federal administrative complaint that charged the county with denying students their constitutional rights and, among other injustices, subjecting them to substantial fees and fines.

The complaint cited troubling trends in the county, including children being funneled into criminal court for truancy, even if their school absences had legitimate reasons; most of these children being minorities; and the children reporting that they were often bullied by judges and magistrates into entering guilty pleas.

The complaint asked the U.S. Department of Justice to declare the practice of prosecuting truancy as a crime as unconstitutional.

NCYL is proud to continue this work nationally with the Debt Free Justice campaign. In 2021, the campaign supported legislative efforts in 15 states.

For more information on the campaign, including ways to support its efforts and/or get involved, visit