By Alexander Ramirez
TALLAHASSEE, FL – A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers has filed the Debt-Free Justice for Children Act in the Florida House and Senate, which consists of proposal HB 257 and SB 428 to eliminate costly fees charged children in the court system.
“Parents are often forced to make an impossible choice: put food on the table or pay down court debt,” said Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book.
Young people who hold court debt have higher recidivism rates, stay on probation longer, are unable to expunge records, obtain driver’s licenses, or participate in job corps programs, claim the bills’ authors.
Fees also increase the likelihood of youth staying in the juvenile and court systems acting as a feedback loop where they continue to incur debt, bill supporters maintain.
They insist that fees are costly to administer and collect, with only 11 percent of the $5.1 million dollars Florida assessed against youth actually being collected. Yet the financial and emotional cost to the youth in question and their families was enormous.
“The impact of court debt lasts into adulthood and significantly decreases a young person’s prospect for achieving his or her potential and contributing to Florida’s economy,” said State Representative Vance Aloupis.
In addition, the proposal would not affect the judge’s ability to order victim restitution, community service, or non-monetary conditions and sanctions.
Other similar legislation was passed in other states like Texas and Louisiana to fulfill the same purpose of eliminating fees assessed to juveniles and their families.
The Debt-Free Justice For Children Act is supported by Americans for Prosperity-Florida, Catalyst Miami, Fines and Fees Justice Center, Florida Juvenile Justice Association, Florida Policy Institute, Florida Rising, Juvenile Law Center, the Players Coalition, and others.
“This bipartisan legislation seeks to make common-sense criminal justice reforms for the Florida juvenile court system,” said State Representative Nicholas X. Duran, a lead sponsor of this legislation in the Florida House.
He added, “The provisions would eliminate court costs and fees on juveniles and young adults and unburden their attempts to become productive members of the community.”
Other national organizations have also advocated for ending fees imposed on youth including, National Conference of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the American Probation and Parole Association, Fair and Just Prosecution, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, and Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice.