The National Network for Youth (NN4Y) was proud to sign a 2021 letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting them to issue guidance to combat the exorbitant fines and fees too often imposed on youth involved in the legal system.
NN4Y is proud to announce that the DOJ recently released a Dear Colleague Letter addressing the common court-imposed fines and fees practices. In summary, the letter:
- Cautions states to stop issuing exorbitant fines and fees to youth, warning that it may violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines.
- Points out that these fines and fees unfairly penalize individuals who are unable to pay, as well as other discriminatory effects.
- Recommends that states “should presume that children and youth are indigent and unable to pay” fines and fees.
- Recommends that states ensure that alternatives to fines and fees, such as community service, do not undermine youths’ ability to achieve other goals, such as treatment, education, or employment.
NN4Y commends the DOJ for issuing this letter to states and urges states to implement all recommendations. These fines and fees criminalize poverty and negatively contribute to homelessness. Research has found that people with debt from legal fees and fines debt experience homelessness at higher rates and for longer periods of time than those without unpaid fines and fees.