Navigating the juvenile justice system can be daunting for any family. After absorbing the shock of a child’s arrest, families often face an intricate, pernicious economy of fines and fees, all while making critical decisions about their child’s case. And if a juvenile defendant’s family can’t afford the fees, they may pay a far steeper price: loss of freedom until the debt is settled.
State and local governments have started to recognize the harmful effects of court-related fees, including in California, where lawmakers have banned juvenile justice fees altogether. But little attention has been paid to another form of financial exploitation: fees and reimbursements for court-appointed lawyers.
Though the Supreme Court ruled in 1967 that courts must provide lawyers to juvenile defendants, a stunning report from Juvenile Law Center found that 40 states have policies that require or permit courts to charge juvenile defendants — and in reality, their families — for “free” court-appointed lawyers, including public defenders. For those who work in the juvenile justice system, it is a maddening yet familiar cycle.