National Center for Youth Law

CAMPAIGNS

Economic Justice in the Juvenile Delinquency System

Juvenile court fines, fees and restitution create long-term significant harm to young people and their families, harm that often occurs without public knowledge or attention. The high financial burden of these charges often upends the lives of young people even longer than the other, better-known punitive aspects of the juvenile justice system such as juvenile detention or probation.

The high financial burden of these charges often upends the lives of young people

Almost every state permits juvenile courts to charge children and their families with some types of fine, fee or restitution. “Fines” are monetary penalties connected to violation of a certain law or ordinance. “Fees” are costs of operating the juvenile justice system which are charged to children and families, including, but not limited to, the costs of detention, out-of-home care, ankle monitors or other GPS devices, services such as court-ordered counseling, DNA testing, and attorney representation. “Restitution” typically refers to money a child is ordered to pay to compensate a victim for the monetary value of a loss.

Juvenile fines, fees and restitution have a disproportionate impact on children of color and low-income children

Emerging evidence indicates that juvenile fines, fees and restitution have a disproportionate impact on children of color and low-income children. Aside from the hardship of affording the cumulative costs, research indicates that children who must pay the high cost of fines, fees and restitution experience a variety of additional harms, such as an increased risk of recidivism, deeper involvement in the juvenile delinquency system, and heightened financial and emotional hardships for the entire family.

NCYL aims to eliminate or significantly reduce the impact of fines, fees and restitution on low-income children and children of color nationwide. We are currently investigating this issue of economic justice in multiple states, in which we are working with local courts to pilot reforms and also advocating for systems change at the local and state levels.

Please contact NCYL at info@youthlaw.org with your stories or concerns about juvenile court fines, fees or restitution.