Courts in Most States Charge Juveniles to Exist Inside the Justice System. This Movement Wants to Change That.
The U.S. Constitution affords all defendants (juveniles and adults) the right to counsel — if they cannot afford an attorney, the court must appoint one. And the presumption is that this counsel is to be free. But a report obtained by The Washington Post found that impoverished families are often required to pay for counsel even after a court deems them ‘too poor to pay.’
“Children’s access to justice shouldn’t depend on their access to money,” said Jessica Feierman, associate director at Juvenile Law Center. “This creates a system for justice by income.”
Feierman expressed concern that this practice prompts youth to plea out or go to court without counsel.
“This heightens their risk of being deprived of their liberty, separated from their families, and incarcerated,” she said.
The report found severe consequences for families who fail to pay. In Wisconsin, parents can be sent to a collections agency. In Minnesota, families can have their incomes and tax returns garnished. And in Oklahoma and Florida, parents who decline court-appointed counsel can be held in contempt of court.