Seeking to join the roster of states that have sought to ease the financial impact of juvenile court fees on families, a bipartisan group of Florida state lawmakers filed two companion measures that would prohibit such charges in the Sunshine State.
While the idea of charging youth and families court fees and fines to help defray the cost of investigation and adjudication of offenders was pitched as reasonable when they were proposed, experience has shown them to be problematic, even counterproductive in real life.
According to a nationwide study by the Juvenile Law Center from 2016, the charges tend to increase recidivism, suck kids further into the juvenile justice system, aggravate existing racial disparities and further strain families that are already struggling financially and emotionally. Given that so many juveniles and families can’t afford to pay them, they are expensive to administer and collect, and lead to longer lockups for youth — at great expense to taxpayers.
If Florida were to pass its Debt-Free Justice for Children Act, which was introduced Oct. 11 in both legislative chambers with bipartisan support, it would join Texas, Louisiana and other states that have passed similar laws to curb the high cost of court fees and fines in the wake of the 2014 fatal police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
“The impact of court debt lasts into adulthood and significantly decreases a young person’s prospect for achieving his or her potential and contributing to Florida’s economy,” said Republican sponsor Florida state Rep. Vance Aloupis.
Proponents say Florida’s House Bill 257 and Senate Bill 428 won’t stop judges’ ability to hold youth accountable. Judges can still order victim restitution, community service or non-monetary conditions and sanctions.
The bills are supported by in-state groups such as Americans for Prosperity-Florida, Catalyst Miami, Fines and Fees Justice Center, Florida Juvenile Justice Association, Florida Policy Institute, Florida Rising and the California-based Juvenile Law Center.