Juvenile Law Center Releases Report on Harmful Municipal Court System Policies and Practices Affecting Youth

chairs in a court room

National children’s rights group sheds light on municipal citation structures in the 50 states and District of Columbia

Philadelphia, PA (February 4, 2021): Today, Columbia Law School’s Community Advocacy Lab, in collaboration with Juvenile Law Center, released a national report entitled “How Municipal Courts Rob America’s Youth: Injustice in the Lower Courts.” The report reveals that in municipal courts across the country, youth and their families face often devastating financial penalties for ordinary teenage behavior like staying out past curfew, underage drinking, or skipping school.

“Imposing fines and fees on young people in municipal court systems is widespread across the country,” Katrina L. Goodjoint, Staff Attorney at Juvenile Law Center said. “These financial penalties exacerbate racial and wealth disparities, pushing young people into the juvenile justice system, and unjustly punishing youth for normal adolescent behavior.”

According to the report, municipal courts expose youth to significant harm without providing them with the protections that they would receive in juvenile court, like confidentiality and the assistance of counsel. The report recommends changes in state and local laws to keep youth out of municipal court and to build on the growing movement across the country to abolish fines and fees imposed on youth.

 “While researching this report, it became clear how little attention has been given to local courts and the dangers they pose to affected youth,” said Kristen Schnell, one of the lead authors of the report and a student at the Community Advocacy Lab. “We hope that the report will inspire further research and much-needed reform.”

Through an ongoing partnership, the Columbia Justice Lab and Juvenile Law Center will continue to research harmful economic justice policies affecting young people around the country and to advocate for economic and racial justice for youth.

About the Expert

Jessica Feierman oversees Juvenile Law Center’s projects and programs. Feierman currently leads a national effort to end fines and fees in the juvenile justice system and is engaged in litigation aimed at eliminating solitary confinement and other abusive practices in juvenile facilities.

Katrina Goodjoint is a staff attorney at Juvenile Law Center, where her work currently focuses on addressing economic justice and equity in the juvenile justice system through litigation, amicus and policy advocacy efforts.