Eliminating Debtor’s Prison for Kids Bill Introduced in Congress

Katy Otto, Debt Free Justice Campaign •
Washington DC Capitol Building

Advocacy organizations celebrate the bill, part of a package of juvenile justice bills from Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Washington, DC (July 31st, 2023): Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) re-introduced the Ending Debtor’s Prison for Kids Act this past week - a bill which would provide incentives for states to eliminate the practice of imposing and collecting juvenile fees and fines. The Debt Free Justice Campaign, a national campaign to eliminate fees and fines in the juvenile legal system, applauds the legislation. The bill is named after Juvenile Law Center’s groundbreaking Debtors’ Prison for Kids report, which brought national attention to the issue of harmful fines and fees for youth in the justice system. The bill is part of a broader package of juvenile justice bills.

“Justice system fees and fines harm young people, families, and communities across the country,” explained Nadia Mozaffar, Senior Attorney at Juvenile Law Center, and co-coordinator of the Debt Free Justice Campaign. “We are grateful to Representative Cárdenas and Senator Booker for their leadership in introducing legislation to help eliminate such fees and fines.”

The Eliminating Debtor’s Prison for Kids Act earmarks funds for rehabilitation services for youth in the justice system to be available to states that eliminate the practice. Since the release of Juvenile Law Center’s Debtors’ Prison for Kids report, there has been increasing momentum for reform. The Debt Free Justice Campaign, led by Juvenile Law Center, Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic, National Center for Youth Law, and a wide coalition of national and local partners have succeeded in reducing or eliminating juvenile fees and fines in 20 states across the political spectrum, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. “Combined with recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice highlighting the often unlawful nature of juvenile fees and fines, this bill will add critical momentum to national efforts to end these regressive and racially discriminatory practices,” noted Devan Shea, co-director of the Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic.

The movement for #debtfreejustice is growing nationwide as more communities begin to understand the harm of imposing monetary sanctions on children. The Debt Free Justice campaign urges Congress to pass this important bill and urges state and local lawmakers to introduce their own legislation to ban the unjust practice completely.

“This bill is an opportunity to create necessary alternatives to end the cycles of harm caused to communities through monetary sanctions and provide meaningful support to youth. The Debt Free Justice campaign urges federal legislators to act on this opportunity" said Debt Free Justice Campaign Manager Miranda Sheffield from the National Center for Youth Law.


photo by Tim Mossholder via Unsplash 

About the Expert

Nadia Mozaffar is a Senior Attorney at Juvenile Law Center. Her work focuses on advancing educational rights and opportunities for children in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, economic justice issues, and protecting the rights of young people in the adult justice system.

Katy Otto joined Juvenile Law Center in 2016. With a background in communications, development and government relations, she is responsible for the organization’s overall messaging strategy and implementation. She is passionate about youth justice, and committed to ensuring that the public learns about the challenges facing youth in the child welfare and justice systems.