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Justice Department Addresses Court–Imposed Fines and Fees for Youth

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On April 20, 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a "Dear Colleague" letter to state and local courts and juvenile justice agencies addressing the constitutional and legal issues and policy considerations related to juvenile and adult fines and fees.

Most importantly for the juvenile justice field, the letter states that jurisdictions should presume that children and youth under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system should be presumed indigent and unable to pay fines and fees.

The letter highlights a number of other key recommendations and best practices regarding fines and fees, such as the importance of conducting a meaningful ability-to-pay assessment before imposing adverse consequences for failure to pay, considering alternatives to fines and fees, guarding against excessive penalties and ensuring due process protections, including the assistance of counsel when appropriate.

"The issue of fines and fees was raised by so many youth at our listening sessions and in meetings over this last year, and this guidance will have a tremendous impact on the lives of young people who've had contact with the justice system." — Liz Ryan, OJJDP Administrator

Key points regarding juvenile justice-involved youth include:

  • Fundamental principles regarding fines and fees, grounded in the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, apply to both adults and youth.
  • Application fees and charges for a court-appointed lawyer can risk violating youths’ constitutional right to counsel.
  • Many states and localities have already eliminated or significantly reduced the use of juvenile fines and fees.

Read the DCL


Date Published: April 21, 2023