California this month became the first state to eliminate court costs, fees and fines for young offenders, Stateline reports. Court officials and legislators wary of forfeiting a key source of revenue have raised roadblocks in states and localities that have tried to do the same. The Trump administration has blunted momentum by scrapping an Obama-era warning against imposing excessive fees and fines on juveniles. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the move as part of a broader effort to overhaul regulatory procedures at the Department of Justice.
The state of Utah, the city of Philadelphia, and Johnson County, Ks.,are among the handful of jurisdictions that have scaled back juvenile fees and fines in the past year, but none has gone so far as California. “It feels like a steep climb now,” said Joanna Visser Adjoian of the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, which successfully fought to end Philadelphia’s policy of billing parents for the costs of detaining their children. A 2016 report from the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, found that in almost every state and the District of Columbia, minors who appear in the million-plus cases heard in juvenile court each year may be charged for multiple court-related costs, fines and fees. Courts use the money for witness fees, court operations, public defender fees and probation supervision. They also spend it on health care, GPS monitoring and drug tests, among many other items and services. Research suggests the fees and fines have a disproportionate impact on families of color and may fuel recidivism. A 2017 report by the National Center for State Courts found that most states do not have systems in place to evaluate a family’s ability to pay fees for juvenile probation supervision or to waive those fees when appropriate to do so.