Effect of Juvenile Justice Fee Repeal on Financial Sanctions Borne by Families

September 2021
By Jaclyn Chambers, PhD, Karin D. Martin, PhD, and Jennifer L. Skeem, PhD

Juvenile justice agencies often impose fees on parents and guardians to offset the cost of their child’s legal representation, detention, and supervision. Increasingly, advocates are calling for fee repeal, to mitigate the costs and harms of various monetary sanctions. However, there has not been an empirical examination of 1) the financial impact of fee repeal on families and 2) whether fee repeal may cause a compensatory increase in other financial sanctions, such as fines. This study examines whether repealing fees has an appreciable effect on the financial burden families carry. Applying targeted maximum likelihood estimation – a rigorous causal inference approach – to data on 2,401 youth placed on probation before and after a fee repeal in Alameda County, we estimate that the likelihood of experiencing any financial sanction was 22.2% lower post-repeal compared to pre-repeal, and the total amount of sanctions was $1,583 (or 70%) lower. Additionally, there was no evidence that repealing fees increased other types of financial sanctions. Our analysis indicates that fee repeal can be a powerful policy lever for doing less financial harm to families during their children’s terms of probation. This study provides empirical evidence that helps inform a growing national effort to eliminate juvenile fees.