Juveniles And Hefty Fines Related To Criminal Activity
It makes perfect sense. If you do the crime, you get stuck with the fines. On balance, when illegal activities are the chosen activity of young people, it results in costly outcomes that impact victims all too often. Whether it’s property damage or worse, isn’t it fair to expect those juveniles to pay up to reduce the burden on their victims? Alas, though that may seem very logical, there are myriad (unintended?) consequences with a system that tacks fines onto juvenile sentences.
Across America, about 800,000 juvenile criminal cases plague juvenile courts every year. Frequently those courts ascribe restitution, fines and fees for these juvenile crimes, payable in lieu of incarceration and/or lengthy episodes of probation. The observable outcome is that indigent youth—often those with Black and brown skin– are locked up with greater frequency than wealthier kids. When these economically challenged youth are lucky enough to avoid incarceration and get fines instead, they and their families struggle with crippling debt, while their wealthier peers manage to pay off the debt with little trouble. Fees associated with sentencing can make digging out of debt virtually impossible for a large portion of the juveniles in the court system.
Do Offenders Reap What They Sow?
Some people may conclude that these offenders should have thought about the downsides before they engaged in criminal activity. This punishment will be a much-needed lesson in responsibility and consequences for bad choices. Fair enough. But does that mesh with the goals of the juvenile justice system–to rehabilitate juvenile offenders? While rehabilitation may arguably include punishment, it is also supposed to rely on counseling, guidance, and targeted assistance to help kids turn their lives around. How is burying youth offenders with a financial burden that they cannot possibly handle a step toward that goal? Beyond that, how can a two-tiered system of justice that punishes underage defendants differently based on their ability to pay be in anyone’s best interest?
And Another Thing…
If you’re still convinced that hefty fines and financial penalties for juvenile offenders is a fabulous idea because victims deserve compensation for their losses, consider this: most victims never seek restitution for crimes committed by juveniles, and only the smallest percentage of them ever actually receives restitution at that. If you think that victims deserve compensation for damage caused by juvenile offenders, know that the system of fining juveniles isn’t making that happen anyway.
These are Not Adults
The biggest point in all of this, though, is that we are discussing juvenile offenders. Children. These are young people who, according to ample brain research, are often unable to make healthy decisions or comprehend the consequences of their actions at the time they commit their crimes. Should they go Scot-free? Of course not. But in no way does it make sense to burden indigent youngsters with paralyzing debt that lasts long after they age out of the juvenile system.
Options for Juveniles
If you are the parent of a juvenile offender, you may well recognize that your child has been accused of criminal activity, and consequences are inevitable. At Courtney & Mills, our dedicated and efficient Springfield criminal defense attorneys are committed to achieving the best possible outcomes for our clients. To discuss the possibilities, schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.