Reimaging Restitution: New Approaches to Support Youth and Communities

Photo of a youth sitting/kneeling in front of a corner laundromat

When it comes to youth restitution, no one wins. Juvenile courts across the country order young people to pay restitution when they are too young to work, still in school, and often in communities where resources are scarce. Youth who can’t pay restitution may be prevented from accessing diversion programs, forced to stay on probation longer, and even locked up for not paying. Family stress, long-term credit damage, and racial disparities resulting from restitution also make it harder for these youth to bounce back. Meanwhile, victims don’t get paid. Communities become less safe. And restorative justice is nowhere in sight. Our report outlines the history of restitution; surveys youth restitution laws in all 56 states and territories; draws on research across fields to outline the harmful impact of restitution on youth, victims, and communities; and proposes key considerations for reimagining restitution.

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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.

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.

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