Emory Law Journal


Across the United States, approximately one million youth appear in juvenile court each year. In almost every state, youth and their families face monetary charges for a young person’s involvement in the juvenile justice system. Too often the inability to pay subjects juveniles and their families to incarceration, suspension of driver’s licenses, an inability to expunge records, and economic and social stress, and pushes the youth offender deeper into the juvenile justice system. Over one hundred years ago, the Illinois legislature established the first separate juvenile court system. That system was designed to recognize that youth are different from adults and to respond with a focus on rehabilitation. Over the course of the century, while state juvenile justice systems have changed, the idea of a separate system has become firmly entrenched nationally and the core goals of supporting youth, assisting rehabilitation, and improving outcomes have remained the same. Fines and fees for youth offenders undermine these core values. This Comment argues that fines and fees imposed on youth offenders should be eliminated nationwide because they ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Bearden v. Georgia, they would be categorically banned under a correct interpretation of the Excessive Fines Clause, they are applied unlawfully under state statutes, they exacerbate economic and racial disparities, they increase recidivism rates for juveniles, and they create hardship for families, pushing responsibility onto sometimes uninvolved parents. Congress must safeguard the due process rights of youth and families and ensure the juvenile justice system, designed to support and rehabilitate, does not instead impose undue harm on juveniles and their families.