Fees and Costs

About This Issue

Court involvement brings with it collateral consequences in many forms, and one of the most ubiquitous is fees and costs. The juvenile legal system can apply these fees and costs nearly automatically, and they are burdensome and cause undue stress and financial strain for youth and their families.

Some jurisdictions have recognized the outsized impact court costs have on youth and their families — and they’re taking meaningful steps to end the cycle of debt and hardship. According to Debt Free Justice, a majority of states have taken some action to address this issue and cap, or even eliminate, fees associated with juvenile court cases. Fifteen states have eliminated all fees in their juvenile court systems entirely, and many more are considering legislation to do so. States like California, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, and Oregon have also instituted relief for past debts arising from these fees and costs.

Campaigns to eliminate fees and costs have made tremendous progress. But, given how these fees exacerbate racial disparities and economic hardship, more states must move swiftly to end this unnecessary burden on young people and their families.

Our Position

Juvenile courts must stop assessing fees and costs to young people and their families when youth face arrest and prosecution. Youth and families may confront insurmountable debts as a result of legal system involvement.

In our assessments of state youth defense systems, we have seen young people billed at nearly every stage of the court process — from getting their fingerprints taken to being held behind bars to accessing an attorney, and so much more.

The assessment reports provide strong evidence for why leaders in states should work to eliminate the burdensome juvenile court costs and fees assessed against youth and families. The Gault Center team is proud to work with state and local partners who are leading these reforms and making the court system more fair and just for all young people.