WASHINGTON, DC — Youth in 21 states can be charged fees for the cost of probation supervision, placing a tremendous burden on young people and their families, according to an issue brief and corresponding infographic released today by the National Juvenile Defender Center.
“These fees create a cycle of debt for families. Children are charged merely for being placed on probation, which exacerbates racial disparities and prolongs the length of time a young person is forced to stay in the system,” said Mary Ann Scali, executive director of the National Juvenile Defender Center.
The Cost of Juvenile Probation is based on interviews with juvenile defenders and probation officers in at least one jurisdiction in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Among the jurisdictions that reported charging fees, the costs vary from a flat fee of $10 to monthly fees that can add up to well above $2,000 — and that’s on top of numerous other fines and costs charged as a result of a delinquency case. If children or families do not have the means to pay the fees, the consequences can be devastating; among them, children are locked up, kept on probation indefinitely, or have civil judgments imposed on them and their families.
“When young people are charged supervision fees, families often must confront the impossible dilemma of covering the cost of their child’s freedom or affording household necessities, which only serves to perpetuate the criminalization of poverty,” said Scali. “In general, no formal process exists for a family to demonstrate they are unable to afford these fees and seek relief.”
The findings reveal an absence of uniform standards across or within states that determines how fees are assessed or whether they’re enforced, resulting in unequal access to justice. The issue brief urges state legislatures and juvenile courts to eliminate the use of supervision fees for juvenile probation. Recommendations also compel juvenile defenders to actively push for waiver of fees based on their incompatibility with the goal of youth success.
“Probation is the most common sentence young people receive in juvenile court, and yet by assessing supervision fees, courts distract from any genuine progress children make,” said Scali. “The fees also create unnecessary stress among family members, particularly when young people need the most support. It’s long past time to drop the use of supervision fees and focus on supporting children’s strengths.”
The National Juvenile Defender Center is dedicated to promoting justice for all children by ensuring excellence in juvenile defense. Through community building, training, and policy reform, we provide national leadership on juvenile defense issues with a focus on the deprivation of young people’s rights in the court system. For more information, please visit our website at www.njdc.info.