Fees and Fines: Examining Financial Sanctions in the Juvenile Justice System
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
The practice of charging administrative fees for costs incurred in the juvenile justice system takes place in at least 40 states. Unlike fines, which are meant to be punitive, and restitution, which is meant to be rehabilitative, juvenile fees are not meant to be either rehabilitative or punitive. Fees are imposed solely to recoup administrative costs of juvenile offenders’ legal representation, detention, and probation supervision.
Juvenile justice fees are gaining attention from policymakers at the state and national levels due to the potential negative impacts on youth and families. Recent policy reports suggest that the administrative fees charged to juveniles on probation disrupt family stability and exacerbate poverty, and these fees disproportionately affect families that are poor and of color. Some counties and states have recently repealed the use of juvenile fees due to these perceived detrimental consequences. In 2018, California repealed juvenile fees statewide.
This study leverages this historic policy change to study the impact of administrative fee repeal. The primary aim is to test the effect of juvenile fee repeal on the imposition of fines and restitution. While fees are not explicitly intended to be punitive or rehabilitative, it is possible that when fees are no longer available as a matter of policy, the juvenile justice system increases the use of other financial sanctions to compensate. Thus, we hypothesize that juvenile fee repeal will increase the use of other financial sanctions.
This quasi-experimental study analyzes administrative probation data to examine whether the removal of fees increases the use of other financial sanctions, including fines and restitution, while controlling for potential confounds. We obtain probation agency data on 1,647 youth who were placed on probation prior to the fee repeal (pre-fee-repeal cohort) and 581 youth who were placed on probation after the fee repeal (post-fee-repeal cohort) in a large northern California county.
We statistically compare the rate of court-ordered fines and restitution for youth in each cohort within 1 year after their index charge. Analyses are conducted using targeted maximum likelihood estimation (TMLE) – a doubly-robust, semi-parametric estimator. TMLE rigorously controls for associations between confounders and both treatment and outcomes, so it is a particularly useful method for examining causal questions using quasi-experimental designs.
Using TMLE, we test whether the fee repeal impacted the imposition of fines and restitution, controlling for youth’s recidivism risk scores, number of re-arrests within 1 year, age, race, and gender.
Initial data suggest that when fees are repealed, fines and fees are imposed at higher rates, with the post-fee-repeal cohort having a 3.3% higher probability of receiving court-ordered fines or restitution than the pre-fee-repeal cohort (p=0.06).
This study is among the first to test how the practice of juvenile fees – and their discontinuation – affects youth and families. The notion of “debt-free justice” is gaining momentum. The results of this study can inform the decisions of policymakers, who have little empirical guidance on the impact of juvenile justice fees.