Debt-Free Justice for Children Act continues Florida Legislature’s criminal justice reform work 

Elected officials and advocates from the Debt-Free Justice for Children Campaign announced recently the introduction of SB 1926 and HB 1391, also known as the Debt-Free Justice for Children Act, sponsored by Senator Audrey Gibson and Representative Tracie Davis. The legislation would promote education, public safety and hope by:  

  • Eliminating administrative fees and fines on all young people in both the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems up to age 18. 
  • Providing protection from fees and fines in the criminal justice system for cross-over youth eligible for continuing foster care up to age 21. 

“Unpaid fines and fees can have devastating consequences for children – especially children of color who tend to have disproportionate involvement with the juvenile justice system, and those living in low-income families,” said Senator Audrey Gibson.  

An unpaid fee can cause young people to be stuck longer on probation or even to face juvenile justice placement away from their homes and families. Inability to pay has prevented youth from expunging records, holding a drivers’ license, participating in programs like job corps and enrolling in the military. Some young people face civil judgments when they cannot pay, which then can impact their credit scores, causing devastating long-term financial impact for youth and families already under financial stress. Many families go into debt to pay costs and fees or find themselves unable to pay for rent or food.  

“Charging fines and fees to children is not only harmful and counterproductive, but it creates an unfair system where justice is based on the ability to pay,” said Rep. Tracie Davis. “Ending this practice would restore hope to thousands of Florida families, many which were already struggling but have been pushed deeper into poverty since the pandemic began.” 

In recent years, five states have eliminated some or all juvenile fees: California, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire and Washington. This year, 14 other states are considering similar reforms: Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming. 

“Over the past 10 years, Florida has made significant progress in protecting children’s futures by implementing civil citations, expunging records and broadening diversion, which open doors to jobs, education and safe housing. This bill is a continuation of that good work and a step in the right direction of creating a more equitable criminal justice system,” stated Roy Miller, president, The Children’s Campaign.  

Fines in the juvenile justice system create serious burdens for young people who are in both the child welfare and the justice systems. Paul Nigro, Florida Guardian Ad Litem regional director states, “Through no fault of their own, foster youth typically do not have the family connections or wherewithal to satisfy the fines. Worse yet, owing fines and fees can make it hard for children to find a permanent family because prospective caregivers have to bear the burden of these costs to welcome the youth into their homes.” 

Florida may be spending as much or more than it is collecting in these fines or fees. According to Juvenile Law Center, research shows this is often the case with juvenile fines and fees. In Florida, the collection rates are very low, with an average of only 11% ($658K) collected annually. 

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Debt-Free Justice for Florida Children is a coalition of economic and racial justice organizations, criminal justice groups, child advocates and impacted individuals working to end harmful and counterproductive fines and fees on children. Steering Committee members include: The Children’s Campaign, Fines and Fees Justice Center and Juvenile Law Center. 

 

Contact:
Karen Bonsignori
The Children’s Campaign
kbonsignori@iamforkids.org

Jag Davies
Fines and Fees Justice Center
jdavies@finesandfeesjusticecenter.org 

 

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