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  • Michigan Center for Youth Justice

Paving the Way to Equity: Michigan's Pursuit of Juvenile Court Debt Reform

By; Jason Smith, Executive Director at Michigan Center for Youth Justice

Juvenile court debt reform has become a priority in Michigan and across the country, as the realization dawns that these fees are inconsistently imposed, fiscally ineffective, and disproportionately impact families of color. They also exacerbate poverty for indigent families.

In Michigan, juvenile courts have the authority to charge various fees in delinquency proceedings, but these discretionary fees are inconsistently applied and collected, resulting in a troubling issue known as "justice by geography.” Mandatory assessments, such as detention and residential placement costs, can be waived but often aren't, leading to financial devastation for families. The debt may persist even after a child's release from supervision, impacting their transition to adulthood. Families struggling to pay debts face dire consequences, including tax refund intercepts, wage assignments, and even threats of eviction.

Fines and fees not only strain parent-child relationships but also create obstacles for probation officers trying to build rapport with families. Parents may hesitate to seek help or report negative behaviors, fearing further financial repercussions. Moreover, these fees can exacerbate tensions between children and their families, with some parents shouldering the burden alone while others hold their children responsible for the financial strain.

As more states or local communities either abolish juvenile fees or consider legislation to do so, Michigan's Juvenile Justice Reform Taskforce has taken a crucial step by unanimously voting to recommend eliminating most non-restitution fees and costs. MCYJ is committed to ensuring this recommendation becomes law during the current legislative session, pushing for a more equitable and compassionate juvenile justice system.

To learn more about the issue of juvenile court debt in Michigan, please click here.

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