More than 180 groups are urging the Biden administration to discourage states from charging fees and fines to incarcerated juveniles they lock up, saying they unfairly load debt on low-income youth and their families.
That was already the Department of Justice’s stance during the Obama administration, but former President Donald Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, rescinded the advisory.
“In almost every state, young people involved in the justice system and their families can face numerous justice system fees and fines for everything from their ankle monitors to court-appointed attorneys, to probation, and even costs related to detention and placement,” said Nadia Mozaffar, senior attorney at Juvenile Law Center. “In light of the harms of such fees and fines, we urge the Department of Justice to reissue its advisory recommending states abolish fees and fines for youth in the justice system.”
The June 8 letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland was authored by representatives of the Juvenile Law Center, the Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law, the Fines and Fees Justice Center, National Center for Youth Law, the National Juvenile Defender Center and signed by more than 180 other organizations.
The letter said that the new advisory should be directed to state and local courts and cite recent cases where courts have found the fees and fines violate youths’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection as well their right to counsel. The analysis and recommendations should focus on the racial inequity of the practice in that the juvenile fees disproportionately harm Black, Latino and indigenous youth, they said.
Stephanie Campos-Bui, deputy director of the Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law, urged Garland to act quickly to prevent kids and families from becoming further entangled in the criminal justice system.
“Guidance and pressure from the Department of Justice will hopefully push others toward abolition so that jurisdictions that continue to charge fees and fines are no longer the norm but the exception,” she said.