Fourteen-year-old Dion Amour, an eighth-grader in Wichita, Kansas, had her first encounter with the juvenile justice system less than a year ago. Now on probation and tethered with an ankle monitor, Dion focuses on her rehabilitation and building a positive future. She works with a therapist four times a week, tries to catch up on missed school, and yearns for normalcy—to “make TikToks, listen to music and stuff,” in her own words.
But if the ankle monitor is not a shackle, the fees related to her case are. Dion’s mother doesn’t have the disposable income to cover these costs, which range from court fees to a “rental” of the ankle bracelet. At Dion’s age, she isn’t able to earn enough income to pay these costs herself. Nickel and dimed to a point where financial stress threatens her therapy and rehabilitation, Dion laments, “You're making kids feel like they have to do something to get some money to pay for it. We’re just kids. We can't pay for this stuff.”
DEBT FREE JUSTICE: Can you tell me about your first interaction with the juvenile court system?
DION ARMOUR: My first interaction was last year, and this is the first time I ever got into trouble with the police and all that. I went to Jayak, and they processed me in.
DFJ: Speaking of the outcome of that situation, can you talk about that?
DION: Well, I ended up getting put on probation for what happened. When I got on probation, I had a male probation officer. He would just have me come in. He would just talk to me about what's going on and stuff. Then I got my probation officer switched to a girl, because all the girls have the same probation officer. She's really nice. She was a real nice woman.
DFJ: How was it going to school, being involved with the system? How was your schooling process? Was it interrupted?
DION: Yeah. School was interrupted. I was in juvenile detention dang near my whole eighth grade year, I was never at school. When I was at school, my probation officer would come up to the school, see me, and then leave. I'd say about once or twice a month.
DFJ: Were you or your parents ever asked to pay money because of your case?
DION: Yes. I'm on an ankle monitor right now, and the ankle monitor comes with a charger. I've lost my charger twice. Every time you want to get a new charger, you have to pay $60 to get a new charger. My mom was like, "Well, I'm not paying $60, so how is she going to charge her bracelet? You want her to charge her bracelet, so give her a new charger."
At the time, my mom couldn't afford to pay for that. I already lost two, so they wanted $120. Luckily I had a friend that was on probation and had another charger that I could use. If I didn't have a charger, I was going to go back to jail.
At the end of the probation, you will have to pay all your fees and stuff. At the end of my probation, I'm going to have to pay for those chargers, you have to pay for your ankle monitor too. You have to pay for court fees, you've got to pay for your urine tests. You have to pay for a lot.
DFJ: Let me ask you about the fines. Have you worked at all before? How does it feel to know you owe money, but not know how you will be able to pay?
DION: Well, I'm only 14. Being 14, it's really hard to get a job. I try to get a job, I want to have a job so bad but I just can't get a job because I'm only 14 years old. Every time I try to get a job, they're like, "You're too young, you're too young."
For me to be able get a job and pay for my court fees and stuff, I'm going to at least have to be 15 to get a job. My mom, she tries to help me with little small businesses to do, but they never go through type stuff. I don't know, it's real hard to find a job down here when you're 14 years old. They want me to pay for all these. How I'm going to pay for it? I'm only 14 years old, I don't even have my first job yet.
DFJ: Did they ever talk to you about employment or how to get a job, or how to actually pay the money that they're asking you to pay, as a 14-year-old?
DION: All they told me is that I need to pay it. When my probation is over, you need to pay that.
DFJ: Do you do other extracurricular activities outside of just school? Just at any point, maybe sports or anything like that?
DION: Sports, no. I don't really play sports, nothing like that. Man, I have so much to do. I have to go to therapy twice a week. I have to see another therapist that comes to my house. They come to my house three times a week. I have to see my probation officer once a week. You got to do a lot of stuff being on probation, a lot of stuff. Your calendar will never ever be empty. You always have something to do every day.
DFJ: That's four out of five school days that you're doing something related to the probation system after school.
DION: After school at 4:00, you got to go to therapy from 4:00 to 6:30.
DFJ: As opposed to you doing any type of actual extracurricular activity to benefit yourself, you're spending all of this extra time doing what the justice system is basically telling you to do, on top of having to pay money. What did they say would happen if you didn't pay your fines? Who said that, if anybody?
DION: I really don't know what they would do if you don't pay for it. I don't think, they never ever told me what was going to happen if I didn't pay.
DFJ: Just that you have to pay.
DFJ: That's wrong, because there is something that will happen if you don't pay. They just didn't tell you, and you don't necessarily know it, but they probably put it in some type of paperwork somewhere. Nobody's going to say nothing, like, "Oh yeah, if you don't pay this by this date, this is going to happen." There are probably consequences for that, but they didn't communicate it.
DION: Yeah. Also, when you go to court and stuff, being my age—young—going to court and stuff, you don't really be knowing what's going on. You just sit there until it's over. Then you would have to ask somebody what happened? You really don't know what's going on. When you in there, they be using big words and you just don't know what they talking about type stuff. You don't know what's happening.
When I was in jail and I came to court, and they was talking. I didn't know what was going on. When I left I'm just going back to JDF, and I'm not knowing that I'm going to go home. I didn't know what they was saying. They used real big words.
DFJ: Yeah, that's something to point out. You know that children are only at a certain grade level and at a certain level. That's kind of already known, but it's nothing done about when they're trying to talk to young people about what's happening in the court.
DION: Yeah, you say nothing in there, you got to be quiet. You know the woman, she talk for you, so you can't ask no questions or nothing.
When they ask you, "Do you want to say something," you be scared to say something. You in this room for with all these people and you are like, "Well, I don't know what you talking about."
DFJ: How do you feel about alternatives to paying fines? What are some things that could be done as opposed to paying money?
DION: First, I don't think there's nothing we should be paying for in the first place. I don't feel like we should be having to pay anything. Why am I paying to go to court? I won't go to court then if I have to pay for it. Well, why am I paying to go to court? Why am I paying for this bracelet that y'all want to put me on? I don't understand that.
I feel like we shouldn't have to pay for nothing. I feel like all of that should be free, because it's already been paid for. Everybody done already used it.
What am I getting? You're making kids feel like they have to do something to get some money to pay for it. We just kids. We can't pay for this stuff.