More Than 180 Organizations Sign On to Letter Urging Department of Justice to Reissue and Update Advisory to Eliminate Juvenile Fees and Fines

Katy Otto,

More Than 180 Organizations Urge Department of Justice to Reissue and Update Advisory to Eliminate Juvenile Fees and Fines

Washington, D.C. (June 8, 2021) –Today more than 180 organizations across the country and political spectrum submitted a letter asking the Justice Department to reinstate and update an advisory advising states to eliminate harmful juvenile fees and fines. Such guidance had previously been issued under the Obama administration and was rescinded under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“In almost every state young people involved in the justice system, and their families, can face numerous justice system fees and fines for everything from their ankle monitors to court appointed attorneys, to probation, and even costs related to detention and placement” said Nadia Mozaffar, Senior Attorney at Juvenile Law Center. “In light of the harms of such fees and fines, we urge the Department of Justice to reissue its advisory recommending states abolish fees and fines for youth in the justice system.”

The letter, with lead authors from Juvenile Law Center, Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic, Fines & Fees Justice Center, National Center for Youth Law, and National Juvenile Defender Center, called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to include several key pieces in an advisory that would be directed to state and local courts regarding their assessment of fees and fines for youth in the juvenile justice system:

  • Recommend that states abolish juvenile fees and fines;
  • Include recent case law and emerging research challenging constitutionality of fees and fines (including Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment concerns and impact on a child’s right to counsel).
  • Center racial equity in the constitutional analysis and recommendations.

Research has shown that juvenile fees disproportionately impact Black, Brown and Indigenous youth. “Recognizing the significant harm to youth and minimal fiscal return to courts and localities, more and more states are beginning to undo this regressive and racially discriminatory practice of imposing fees and fines on young people and their families” said Stephanie Campos-Bui, Deputy Director in the Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law. “Guidance and pressure from the Department of Justice will hopefully push others toward abolition so that jurisdictions that continue to charge fees and fines are no longer the norm but the exception.”

The coalition urges the Biden administration’s Justice Department to act swiftly to repudiate harmful fees and fines which push youth and their families deeper into the legal system.

Authors of the memo are available for comment and interview.

Juvenile Law Center advocates for rights, dignity, equity and opportunity for youth in the foster care and justice systems. For more information about Juvenile Law Center’s work, visit www.JLC.org. 

The Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law pursues non-litigation strategies to address systemic racial, economic, and social injustice. The Clinic supports local and state change campaigns to abolish regressive and racially discriminatory fees and fines in the juvenile and criminal legal systems.

The National Juvenile Defender Center is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting justice for all children by ensuring excellence in juvenile defense. NJDC provides support to public defenders, appointed counsel, law school clinical programs, and non-profit law centers to ensure quality representation in urban, suburban, rural, and tribal areas.

The National Center for Youth Law is a non-profit law firm that helps low-income children achieve their potential by transforming the public agencies that serve them. NCYL leads high impact campaigns that weave together litigation, research, public awareness, policy development, and technical assistance.

The Fines and Fees Justice Center is a national advocacy organization working to create a justice system that treats individuals fairly, ensures public safety and community prosperity, and is funded equitably. FFJC works collaboratively with affected communities and justice system stakeholders to eliminate fees in the justice system, ensure fines are equitably imposed, and end abusive collection practices.

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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.

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.

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.