New Study Shows High Cost of Florida’s Hidden Taxes on Children

Katy Otto,
chain link fence in front of mural

First-Of-Its-Kind Statewide Research Reveals How Fees Increase Recidivism and Trap Families in Debt

A new study led by a University of Miami researcher demonstrates how fees imposed on youth and their families in Florida lead to continued justice system involvement for youth who cannot pay.

Every young person who comes into contact with Florida’s courts — regardless of guilt or innocence — is saddled with fees. Florida law authorizes 31 different court fees, costs and surcharges to be imposed on youth and their families, such as court administration fees, medical fees, public defender fees, supervision fees, the costs of detention, and surcharges.

Most of this debt is entirely uncollectible. In 2021, only 13% of the $3.3 million dollars that was assessed against youth statewide was collected.

The financial and emotional cost to families are devastating, as parents are often forced to make an impossible choice: put food on the table or pay down court debt. The new study, for example, found that 33% of families saddled with juvenile fees could not pay them without forgoing paying bills for basic necessities such as food, rent, and electricity.

“These fees charged to children and their families are promoting recidivism instead of rehabilitation,” said Sarah Couture, Florida State Director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “Fees undermine the purpose of the juvenile system — which should be to help support young people’s development and set them up for success.”

In the last five years, 16 states from across the country — including Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma — have enacted new laws to eliminate fees assessed against children and their families.

A wide range of organizations support ending fees imposed on youth — including Americans for Prosperity, American Probation and Parole Association, Juvenile Law Center, National Conference of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, and the Players Coalition.

“Charging kids money for their unfortunate involvement in the criminal legal system forces them into the vicious cycle of recidivism," said Ebby Stoutmiles, State Policy Advocate with Juvenile Law Center. “Research shows that these financial burdens create economic stress for the whole family.”

Key Findings: A Statewide Analysis of the Impact of Fees on Juvenile Recidivism in  Florida

  • The report found higher recidivism among youth who were assigned fees (19.4%) compared to similarly situated youth who were not assigned fees (15.7%) and concluded that fees increased the likelihood of recidivism.
  • It appears that those youth/families potentially least likely to be able to pay assigned fees are more likely to be assigned a higher amount of fees.
  • The results suggest that fees increase recidivism among youth, with the effect most pronounced among white youth.
  • Youth residing in areas with greater concentrated disadvantage, while not more likely to be assigned fees, had higher amounts of fees assigned. 
  • Black (mean = $709.50) and Hispanic youth (mean = $633.33) were administered  significantly higher fees than white youth ($426.50 on average). 
  • Males were also required to pay significantly more in fees than females ($636.60 vs $414.00 on average).
  • About a third of youth in residential facilities who were surveyed didn’t know whether they had any monetary sanctions or whether such sanctions had been paid.
  • 13% of youth surveyed said they would have to resort to criminal activity to get the money.
  • 15% reported putting off payment of other bills.
  • 37.8% would have to get money from family or friends.
  • Families typically shared the burden of paying these costs:
    • 33% said their families would not be able to pay other bills 
    • 24% said it would negatively impact their families
    • 28.9% said their families would have to borrow to pay 
    • 33% said it would negatively impact family relationships


Read the New Report

About the Expert

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.