Fines, fees and restitution mandates levied on juvenile offenders have the greatest effect on the poor and racial minorities, creating a two-tiered system of justice, according to a new report published by the Juvenile Law Center, a legal aid and advocacy group in Philadelphia. In juvenile systems intended to help wayward youths go straight, the study found, these costs are often counterproductive, drawing young people, especially poor minorities, ever deeper into the maze of criminal courts and straining already-fragile families, says the New York Times. These measures are intended to help recoup public costs, make offenders feel accountable and repay crime victims for losses, but in practice they often do not meet these goals, researchers say.
If they cannot pay fees, impoverished offenders may spend extra months and years on probation. In some cases, they may even be incarcerated longer because they cannot pay the daily fee for a GPS ankle bracelet. In another practice that deepens inequities, about 20 states charge fees to have juvenile records expunged or sealed. In South Carolina, for example, juvenile offenders must pay more than $300. “There’s no point in trying to have low-income defendants pay for the justice system,” said Kate Weisburd, a youth advocate in Berkeley, Calif. “It’s like drawing blood from a stone, and it only pushes them further into debt.”