Ending Fees and Fines for Juvenile Offenders is Best for Rehabilitation

Chandlee Kuhn, Reason •
black grafitti on brick wall that reads "Until debt tears us apart."

A former chief judge of Delaware's Family Court argues that imposing fines and fees on juvenile offenders undermines their potential to become productive, law-abiding adults.


I was a judge and chief judge of Delaware's Family Court for over 17 years. In those roles, I held trials and oversaw plea agreements where I was required to order youths under 18 to pay fines and fees that ended up pushing them deeper into the criminal justice system when they inevitably did not pay. I have thus seen firsthand the problems that court-imposed financial obligations create for young people and their families who are often already struggling financially.

During my tenure and with my support, Delaware began to move away from imposing financial penalties in juvenile Family Court proceedings. I am proud that in 2023, Delaware joined a growing number of states and jurisdictions when we passed into law major reforms to our criminal legal system's financial obligations, including eliminating fines and fees for our young people in Family Court. Delaware Family Court judges are not only not required to impose fines or fees as a penalty for children found delinquent; they are no longer permitted to do so.

Delaware is known as the "First State," but we were not the first state to make these changes. We are one of eight states to eliminate all fines and fees in juvenile cases, joining Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington. A dozen others have made strides toward this goal, including Arizona, Louisiana, South Dakota, Texas, and others who eliminated all fees, but not all fines, for adjudications of delinquency.

In fact, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization of state legislators dedicated to limited government, free markets, and federalism, adopted model legislation in August 2023, urging more states to eliminate all fees, fines, or other financial obligations (other than restitution) against minors in criminal or juvenile proceedings.