January 27, 2016

Casey and Whitehouse Call on Justice Department to Address Court Fees Charged to Families of Youth Offenders

Administrative Fees Burden Vulnerable Families

Washington, D.C. – In a letter sent to the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) today, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) called on the OJJDP to look into local governments’ practice of charging parents and legal guardians for costs associated with processing and incarcerating youth in our juvenile justice system.  Families receive court bills—sometimes for thousands of dollars— often with little notice and well after the youth have completed their sentences.

Such charges are imposed for things like probation, detention, electronic monitoring, drug testing, criminal investigations, and public defender services. 

“These fees represent a substantial burden for families and it’s important the Department of Justice closely examine this practice,” Senator Casey said. “DOJ needs to look closely at how these fees are assessed to make sure that the system is fair and consistent with the main goal of our juvenile justice system: rehabilitating young people who have made mistake.”

“This is a deeply troubling practice.  The last thing that families navigating our juvenile justice system need is to be hit with thousands of dollars in court fees.  Instead, they should be able to use their money to provide a safe and nurturing home where their children can turn things around.  The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention should take a hard look at these practices, gather the best information, and come up with a sensible way to address them,” said Senator Whitehouse.

Casey and Whitehouse, who are sponsors of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act and the Youth PROMISE Act, express concern in the letter that courts in certain states are not taking into account youth offenders’ families’ or guardians’ ability to pay.  In many states, statutes require judicial determinations affirming that an offender’s parents or guardian have the means to cover their administrative fees.

In addition, the Senators note evidence suggesting that the burden of juvenile justice-related administrative fees is increasing.  They cite a study by the University of California, Berkley, School of Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic, which found that the average Alameda County, California, youth with court-ordered administrative fees is charged $2,861—up dramatically from $243 in 2009.  The study also shows that on average, black juveniles incur nearly double the fees that white offenders do.

Read the full text of the letter below:

January 19, 2016                                                       

Robert L. Listenbee


Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Office of Justice Programs

U.S. Department of Justice

810 Seventh Street, NW

Washington, DC 20531

Dear Administrator Listenbee:

It has recently come to our attention that, in counties across the nation, from Philadelphia County in Pennsylvania to Alameda County in California, local units of government are enforcing orders against the parents or guardians of juvenile justice-involved youth to pay court- and incarceration-related costs.  Out of concern for these young people and their families, and as sponsors of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act and the Youth PROMISE Act, we ask that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) review its authority and policies with respect to this practice and examine its relationship to OJJDP’s stated vision and goals.

Based on our understanding, courts have collected administrative fees to cover the costs of probation and/or community supervision, detention, electronic monitoring, drug testing, criminal investigations, and public defender services.  There appears to be little or no advance notice provided with respect to these costs, and family members sometimes receive bills—often in the thousands of dollars—well after their sons, daughters, or grandchildren have completed their sentences.

A study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic found that the average Alameda County youth with court-ordered administrative fees is charged $2,861.  Prior to 2009, the relevant figure was $243.  For black juveniles, the average cost is $3,438, compared with $1,637 for white offenders.  The same study found that, due to collection-related costs, Alameda County saw no net budget gain from increased enforcement of administrative fees.

While certain state statutes authorize court-related administrative fees, many of these laws require judicial determinations that those charged have the ability to pay.  At least anecdotally, it appears that courts are not routinely making such determinations.  In Philadelphia, families have reported challenging the costs only to be given the choice between paying the fines and seeing their loved ones charged and sentenced as adults.  Young people involved in the juvenile justice system disproportionately come from low-income backgrounds.  Unforeseen administrative fees can pose an additional hardship on families struggling to make ends meet and make it harder for young people to successfully reenter society.

We recognize that the concerns outlined above relate to the interpretation and enforcement of state, rather than federal, laws.  OJJDP is the agency responsible for supporting state efforts to prevent and respond to juvenile delinquency and for improving the nation’s juvenile justice system.  We hope that OJJDP will be able to provide additional information and guidance with regard to juvenile administrative fees.  OJJPD’s vision statement declares that, in the event young people come into contact with the juvenile justice system, “the contact should be rare, fair, and beneficial to them.”  We ask that you hold the practice of levying administrative fees up against these principles, and review whether it serves the rehabilitative mission of the juvenile justice system.  Specifically, we would appreciate answers to the following questions:

(1)   Does OJJDP collect data regarding the imposition of financial obligations on youth and families for the cost of juvenile justice or court administration (e.g. administrative fees, court fees, court fines, charges for confinement, treatment, or diversion programs)?  If not, would such data be relevant to OJJDP’s vision and useful in its mission to support high-quality state juvenile justice systems?

(2)   Does OJJDP have a policy regarding the provision of grants and/or technical assistance to states whose juvenile justice systems rely on the collection of court- and incarceration-related costs from youth and families?

(3)   Does OJJDP encourage states to refrain from collecting fees, fines, and costs from family members and guardians of justice-involved youth?  Does OJJDP encourage states to collect fees, fines, and costs only when there have been judicial findings concerning a youth’s ability to pay?  Does OJJDP believe there are steps Congress could take to encourage a moratorium of the practice of imposing such financial obligations on youth and families?

Thank you very much for your consideration.  We look forward to your response. 


Sen. Robert Case 

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921