The Price of Justice: The High Cost of 'Free' Counsel for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

The Price of Justice: The High Cost of 'Free' Counsel for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Despite being eligible to have court-appointed attorneys at no cost, indigent juvenile defendants and their families are often charged for "free" counsel, a report from the Juvenile Law Center finds. Funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the report, The Price of Justice: The High Cost of 'Free' Counsel for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System (24 pages, PDF), found that forty states have laws that permit or even require courts to charge for public defenders. The fees push families — who can be held in contempt of court, receive a civil judgment, or receive liens against their properties if they can't pay — into debt, forces youth deeper into the justice system, and jeopardizes the constitutionality of juvenile court proceedings. Youth of color, who are more likely than white youth to be criminalized for the same behavior and are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, are disproportionately affected, with no benefit to public safety or their rehabilitation. The policies that best ensure constitutional juvenile proceedings and an effective justice system, the report concludes, require the elimination of costs and fees for court-appointed counsel or public defenders.