Every young person who comes into contact with Florida’s courts — regardless of guilt or innocence — is saddled with fees. Florida law authorizes 31 different court fees, costs and surcharges to be imposed on youth and their families, such as court administration fees, medical fees, public defender fees, probation supervision fees, the costs of detention, and surcharges. Together, these fees are quietly leading thousands of children, and their families, down a path of inescapable debt and despair.
Most of this debt is entirely uncollectible. In 2021, only 13% of the $3.3 million dollars that was assessed against youth statewide was collected. For Miami-Dade County in 2021, only 11% of the $93,000 that was assessed against youth was collected. The financial and emotional cost to families are devastating, as parents are often forced to make an impossible choice: put food on the table or pay down court debt.
In the last five years, 16 states from across the country — including Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma — have enacted new laws to eliminate harmful fines, fees and costs assessed against children and their families. Now, a new study conducted by Professor Alex Piquero at the University of Miami demonstrates how these fees lead to deeper justice system involvement for youth who cannot pay.
- The report found higher recidivism among youth who were assigned fees (19.4%) compared to similarly situated youth who were not assigned fees (15.7%) and concluded that fees increased the likelihood of recidivism.
- It appears that those youth/families potentially least likely to be able to pay assigned fees are more likely to be assigned a higher amount of fees.
- The results suggest that fees increase recidivism among youth, with the effect most pronounced among white youth.
- Youth residing in areas with greater concentrated disadvantage, while not more likely to be assigned fees, had higher amounts of fees assigned
- Black (mean = $709.50) and Hispanic youth (mean = $633.33) were administered significantly higher fees than white youth ($426.50 on average)
- Males were also required to pay significantly more in fees than females ($636.60 vs $414.00 on average)
- About a third of youth in residential facilities who were surveyed didn’t know whether they had any monetary sanctions or whether such sanctions had been paid.
- 13% of youth surveyed said they would have to resort to criminal activity to get the money.
- 15% reported putting off payment of other bills.
- 37.8% would have to get money from family or friends.
- Families typically shared the burden of paying these costs:
- 33% said their families would not be able to pay other bills
- 24% said it would negatively impact their families
- 28.9% said their families would have to borrow to pay
- 33% said it would negatively impact family relationships
Read and download the full report here.