Press Release: New Mexico Legislature Approves Bill Eliminating Fines & Fees for Children

New Mexico Legislature Unanimously Approves Bill Eliminating Fines & Fees for Children

Santa Fe – Last night, New Mexico Senators unanimously approved HB 183 (36-0), which would eliminate administrative fines and fees charged to children involved in the juvenile system. The bill now heads to Gov. Lujan Grisham’s desk.

Sponsored by Representatives Roger Montoya and Gail Chasey, the Juvenile Fines and Fees Reform Act will:

  • Remove fines and administrative fees from the Delinquency Act within the Children’s Code.
  • Eliminate the $10 application fee for a public defender in Children’s Court.

This bill was developed in cooperation with and unanimously endorsed by the New Mexico Sentencing Commission and is the first in a long-term effort to examine reforms in the juvenile justice system.

The proposal will not affect the assessment or collection of victim restitution. It also does not limit the court’s discretion to impose sanctions on child defendants, nor does it change probation or sentencing requirements. 

“These harmful fines and fees entrench youth in poverty rather than giving them the tools they need to succeed and  move forward,” said State Representative Roger Montoya. “This legislation will strengthen New Mexico’s families and help us care for and protect our youth.”

In recent years, 6 states have eliminated some or all juvenile fines and fees: CA, MD, NV, NH, NJ and WA. This year, at least 13 states are considering similar reforms: AR, AZ, DE, FL, IN, LA, MI, NJ, NM, OR, PA, VA and WY.

Fines and fees are ineffective and costly to administer. Research shows that fines and fees are difficult to collect and that  collection can cost states and counties almost as much or more than they end up receiving in revenue. Fines and fees also increase the likelihood that youth will face extended or repeated involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. 

“Fines and fees prevent youth from investing in their futures and push low-income youth and their families deeper into  poverty,” said State Representative Gail Chasey. “They are yet another stumbling block for youth, making it more difficult to complete court requirements, invest in their education, and refocus on their futures. Instead of addressing the root causes of young people’s involvement in the juvenile system, imposing fines and fees only compounds the stress and family strain or trauma that led to it.”  

Fines and fees disproportionately harm children and families earning low incomes, as well as youth of color and their families. In New Mexico, Hispanic and Indigenous  youth make up the majority population in juvenile detention and Black youth are arrested at twice the rate of white  youth. All three groups experience disproportionate referrals to juvenile court and harsher sentencing than white youth.

More than half (51%) of New  Mexico adults in households with children have lost employment income since Covid-19, and as many as 34% of New Mexico children were likely to be food insecure in 2020.

“Nearly 99% of incarcerated youth in New Mexico have experienced some form of trauma that influenced their decision making,” said Javier Rojo, Research and Policy Analyst with New Mexico Voices for Children.  “Tacking court-ordered costs onto an already traumatic experience only adds stress to youths’ lives.  The elimination of fines and fees is a big step forward in creating a more just criminal justice system that focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment.” 

“This reform allows children in the system to focus on their rehabilitation and their obligations to the court rather than on finding money to pay fines and fees,” said Bennett Baur, New Mexico Chief Public Defender. 

“The New Mexico Sentencing Commission was delighted to work with the Fines and Fees Justice Center on the HB 183 initiative and other criminal justice reform initiatives in the past year,” said Douglas Carver, Deputy Director of the New Mexico Sentencing Commission.  “The collaboration that produced HB 183 epitomizes how effective dialogue between all criminal justice partners can produce meaningful reform in our state.”

“These fines and fees are not an effective or fair way to fund local government,” said Monica Ault, New Mexico State Director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center.Families should not have to choose between paying fines and fees, or paying for food and housing.”