Youthful offenders stagger under the impact of restitution payments, report says

Craig McCoy, Philadelphia Inquirer •
Bre Stoves, Youth Advocate

Young people caught up in the juvenile justice system are too often punished for being poor, saddled with paying excessive restitution that leaves them broke and leaves their victims out of luck, too, a new report says.

The detailed national study by Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, made public Thursday, says the demands for money mean young offenders can face being jailed again if they fall short on payments or they can be stuck with civil judgments that can destroy their credit. Some will face longer runs on probation or an inability to expunge their criminal records, the report said.

“The big takeaway is that the juvenile justice system is not working for young people or for victims,” said Lindsey E. Smith, a center lawyer. “Young people are being penalized for money they don’t have. It makes it really hard for young people to succeed.”

Her colleague, center attorney Jessica Feierman, said the same system leaves “victims unsatisfied and uncompensated.”

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.

Lindsey E. Smith joined Juvenile Law Center in 2020 as the Debt Free Justice Staff Attorney, fighting harmful court fines and fees imposed on young people and their families. She believes fines and fees are a toxic form of revenue that incentivize policing for profit, extract resources from Black and Brown communities, and push youth and their families into a cycle of poverty. Through litigation and policy campaigns across the country, she hopes to support local advocates in abolishing fines and fees in juvenile legal systems.