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Juveniles also deserve high court protections from justice system fees.

Youths also hit hard by system; and kids of color disproportionately suffer.

As a result, not only are children of color at a heightened risk of family separation and incarceration, but their families also pay more in fees, including court fees, public defender fees, probation fees, placement costs and other financial obligations associated with the justice system.


Youth and their families are being doubly punished and doubly taxed. And the problem doesn’t stop there. Unpaid fees can also lead to increased or repeated contact with the justice system, exacerbating the disparities further. 

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Across the country, youth — particularly black and brown youth — are doubly punished with court and justice related fines and fees in addition to involvement in the juvenile justice system. Youth and families who cannot pay the fees face extended probation, denial of services and sometimes even incarceration. Familiesgo into debt or may have to choose between paying court fees or paying for groceries.

It’s time to eliminate juvenile fines and fees, and the court's ruling gives us a new opportunity to challenge their constitutionality.


Fines as revenue  

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her decision, the problem can be particularly severe because states may impose fines not just for punishment but also as a “source of revenue.” 

One young person likened the experience of facing fines to "drowning" while people just keep "pouring more water in the pool." A civil rights attorney shared that as a teenager, he sold drugs just to pay off his juvenile justice fees. A grandmother said she was urged to give up custody of her grandchild to free herself of the economic burden of his court debt. 


In 2015, when the Department of Justice examined fines and fees in the adult criminal justice system in Ferguson, Missouri, they quickly realized that bias was at play. In fact, fines and fees contribute to a devastating system of racial and social control.

Michelle Alexander, a civil rights author, has laid the problem bare: If you’re poor and black, selling CDs or loose cigarettes can lead to fines, an arrest or even death, while the wealthy can bankrupt millions without even a slap on the wrist.


Children of color more at risk

That the problem starts in childhood makes it even more troubling. Black and brown youth are more likely to attend  highly policed schools than their white peers. Ironically, this may make schools less safe and learning more difficult. It not only pulls resources from educators and counselors, but also leads to greater arrest rates.

Once in juvenile court, black and brown youth are  more likely than their white peers to be adjudicated delinquent, placed outside the home, and transferred to  adult court for the same behavior. 


As a result, not only are children of color at a heightened risk of family separation and incarceration, but their families also pay more in fees, including court fees, public defender fees, probation fees, placement costs and other financial obligations associated with the justice system. Youth and their families are being doubly punished and doubly taxed. And the problem doesn’t stop there. Unpaid fees can also lead to increased or repeated contact with the justice system, exacerbating the disparities further. 


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