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Court Fines, Fees Can Trap Minority Youths In The Juvenile Justice System, Report Finds

Jeff Heimsath
Texas Tribune
A cell at the Giddings State School, a correctional facility of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

A new reportexamines the high cost of court fines and fees and how they can trap minority kids in a downward spiral. Alex Piquero with the University of Texas at Dallas co-authored the study and he joins KERA’s Justin Martin to talk about its findings.

Interview Highlights: 

... on a few court-cost examples: "The fees are variable, so some fees will be $200, some will be $600, some will be $1,500, and it depends on the conditions under which the juvenile is arrested and what the court imposes on the juvenile. For example, a drug testing could cost $15, $25, $50. [It] also depends on the number of times drug testing occurs, so those costs are imposed on the child, or the juvenile, and if the juvenile can't work, can't leave school to pay that fine, then the cost gets transferred to the parents."

... on what happens if the family can't pay the costs: "The fees could be doubled, or tripled, and so on, kind of like an interest payment. Other examples are an additional period of time on probation until the juvenile and/or his family can pay the fine. In extreme cases, if the child and/or their parents can't pay the fines, it is possible that they continue progressing further into the system. So, that takes them out of school, takes them out of work, and it creates a cascading set of problems, not only for the juvenile, but also for their families."

... on court costs and fines affecting minority kids the most: "It's not necessarily that minority [kids] are given more fines. There are two things here. The first one is: In our study minority kids were involved in violent crimes more so than property crimes. As a result of that, violent crime cases get additional fines. The second thing is that minorities in the study weren't able to pay their fines over time. They had a higher likelihood of getting fines, and also a higher likelihood of getting more expensive fines, and a higher likelihood of not being able to pay for those fines."

... on the higher the fees, the more likely kids are to commit crimes: "After the kid was released, we followed their offending records for two years, and what we found was juveniles, who were more likely to owe costs as well as the amount of costs they owed, were more likely to recidivate in a two-year follow-up, and this is after taking into consideration a whole range of factors. Now, when you add to that the fact that nonwhite juveniles in our sample were also at higher risk to recidivate, when you couple that risk of recidivism for nonwhites along with the fact that nonwhites are getting more costs at higher costs, it creates a real double whammy from social policy perspective."

Alex Piquero is a professor of criminology at UT Dallas and co-author of the study which was published in the journal Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice

Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.