Ensuring Young People Are Not Criminalized for Poverty: Bail, Fees, Fines, Costs, and Restitution in Juvenile Court

By National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, State Justice Institute, and National Juvenile Defender Center

Juvenile courts across the country charge young people and their families bail, fines, fees, costs, and restitution without regard to a youth’s inability to pay. Such financial assessments are common in criminal courts, but in juvenile courts the consequences of such practices are even more detrimental, as they are exacerbated by youth’s  financial dependence. Young people may feel pressure to waive their right to counsel if their legal representation imposes a financial burden on their families; and youth and their families are pulled deeper into the court system for longer periods of time, for reasons unrelated to public safety. Further, when access to justice is conditioned on a person’s ability to pay fines, fees, and other costs to the courts, the disparities of class, race, and ethnicity are magnified. Judges are uniquely positioned to eliminate the harms and hardships caused by the imposition of bail, fees, fines, costs, and restitution orders in court. This bench card illustrates some of the detrimental impacts of financial assessments and obligations upon youth and their families and provides guidance for judges on how to exercise their discretion to alleviate harm and support youth on pathways to success.