When you think of juvenile courts, you probably think of courts that are only there to punish juveniles and then let them go on their way. Interestingly, these juveniles who go through the system are responsible for paying court costs and other expenses. That leaves some juveniles in jail even longer because they can’t pay what they owe.
Some juveniles who are in the system are ordered to pay restitution. Those who remain in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice must also pay for their support while they are completing their sentences.
A report came out that has many people questioning the legalities of this. Jailing people for an inability to pay personal debts is unconstitutional. The legal director of JustChildren notes that this applies to youths in the juvenile justice system. She says that youths become trapped in the system because of debt. This is interesting because people in the juvenile justice system are minors and minors can’t legally be required to repay debts.
Typically, fees are a way to make people found guilty take some financial burden off of the taxpayers. That, however, doesn’t really make sense for juveniles. These young people are often unable to work off debts. That leaves their family members with the burden. In many cases, those family members are already having financial troubles.
Being unable to come out of the juvenile justice system without having to pay off hundreds or thousands of dollars may lead some juveniles down the wrong path in an effort to get out from under the debts.
Anyone who is involved with a youth in the juvenile justice system should look closely at the financial obligations that are being placed on the juvenile. Finding out if there are ways to reduce the burden might be helpful.
Source: Public News Service, “Virginia Juveniles: Sentenced to Debtors’ Prison?,” Dan Heyman, Sep. 21, 2016