Justice System for Juveniles
The first Juvenile Court was established in 1899 when Illinois passed the Juvenile Court Act.
This court system was created to divert youth offenders from the crippling effects of adult criminal penalties, and focus on rehabilitation and supporting the youth to get their lives back on track. While this has remained the motive for juvenile courts across various states, the fines and fees that often follow a juvenile criminal conviction today seem to undermine the initial motives of this court system.
Today, most youths that face the juvenile court system are overburdened by the fines and fees issued by the court as a form of punishment or to cover expenses for things like an appointed lawyer, probation supervision, ankle bracelet monitoring, drug testing, diversion programs, or placement fees in case of incarceration.
What’s worse is that these fines and fees not only affect the youth with the juvenile criminal conviction but also the family members who are, in most cases, charged with the responsibility of paying for these fines and fees. Failure to pay these fines and fees could lead to graver consequences for the convicted youth and their family members.
However, what most courts fail to consider are the long-term costs that these hectic fines and fees may place on families, particularly impoverished ones. Several studies have shown that these monetary punishments:
Increased Chances of Recidivism
Remember, the main point of the juvenile court system in the first place was to assist the youth and lead them back to the right track and away from a life of criminal activity. However, monetary penalties while intended to deter the convicted youth from criminal activity may actually end up leading them right back to it.
A research study showed that youths were more likely to re-offend if they owed costs once their case was over. This is particularly the case for youths from poorer families who had no means of earning the money needed to pay monetary penalties.
Take the case of Amir Whitaker, who was charged in juvenile court while he was fifteen for possession and intent to distribute a controlled substance. When convicted, Whitaker received probation, his driver’s license was revoked, and a fine of about two thousand dollars was charged. An amount he, without a doubt, could not afford even after he obtained a job at a Burger King. Consequently, to avoid violating his probation by failing to pay the fine, Whitaker ended up going back to the crime they were accused of in the first place (selling drugs) to help pay his fine!
Worsens Existing Racial Disparities
It is an unfortunate reality that most youths of color are often more likely to interact with the juvenile court system. What is worse is that youth of color are likely to be charged with higher fines or longer sentences upon conviction when compared to their white counterparts who have committed the same crime.
This means a greater financial burden for youth of color and their families.
Leads To Family Instability
Since most youth convicted cannot pay for the fines and fees they are charged with. This burden normally falls on their parents or guardians. This can lead to turmoil and resentment between family members who now have to find the money to pay for this unexpected expense.
These fees and fines can be especially crushing for families with low incomes who, in most cases, are already struggling to get by.
Adding an unrealistic monetary penalty to the table will launch them into an inescapable cycle of debt. This has even led to some youth with juvenile criminal convictions choosing to run away from home out of guilt for placing such a huge financial burden on their already struggling family.
Having a kid or family member with a juvenile criminal conviction can turn a once happy and stable home into one of instability and constant arguments.
However, there does seem to be hope for juvenile convicts and their families. Some states, including California, are choosing to stop the long-term consequences caused by fines and fees charged after juvenile criminal convictions by choosing to scale back or remove fines and fees for youth offenders.
These states hope to focus the juvenile system on rehabilitating those who suffer, rather than punishing them.
- When Can a Juvenile be Tried in Adult Court?
- California Juvenile Court: How it Works
- Can You Terminate Your Sex Offender Status as a Juvenile?
- How to Seal Your Juvenile Record
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Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.