The Price of Justice: The High Cost of "Free" Counsel for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Jessica Feierman, Nadia Mozaffar, Naomi Goldstein, Emily Haney-Caron,
Close up of hand holding a crumpled US dollar bill.

Approximately one million youth appear in juvenile court each year. In every state, youth and families face juvenile justice costs, fees, fines, or restitution. Youth who can’t afford to pay for their freedom often face serious consequences, including incarceration or extended probation. Many families either go into debt trying to pay these costs or must choose between paying for basic necessities, like groceries, and paying court costs and fees.

The Price of Justice analyzes statutes in all 50 states regarding the cost of court-appointed counsel, including fees for public defenders. In most states, youth or their families must pay for legal assistance even if they are determined to be indigent. Charging families—especially those living in poverty—for “free” attorneys leads to devastating consequences.

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