Dreams Deferred: The Impact of Juvenile Fees on Florida’s Children, Families, and Future

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. Together, these fees are quietly leading our youth, and their families, down a path of inescapable debt and poverty.

This report outlines the catastrophic consequences of juvenile fee debt for Florida’s children, families, and economy including: increased poverty, increased recidivism, and the exacerbation of racial disparities in the justice system. It also shows how the accumulation of fee debt is particularly damaging for Black youth and youth in the child welfare system.

Using county-level and statewide data, the report highlights the futility of both government, and private collection efforts, arguing that the costs of fee assessment and collection far outweigh the meager revenue received from such efforts.

Key Findings

  • Florida charges children, young people, and their families 31 different fees and costs for their involvement in the juvenile system — regardless of guilt or innocence. These fees include: court administration fees, medical care costs, public defender fees, probation supervision fees, the costs of detention, and surcharges.
  • The immense debt that youth incur on account of these fees obliterates their future prospects while driving them, and their families, deeper into poverty.
  • Fee debt imposed on children and their families is uncollectible — whether by governments or private debt collectors. In 2019, only 11% — or $547,973 — of the $5.1 million assessed against youth was collected.
  • Juvenile fee debt drives recidivism and undermines the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system.
  • Black youth and their families carry a disproportionate amount of the costs and fees imposed by the juvenile system — some of which are imposed regardless of the young person’s guilt or innocence. From 2019 to 2020, Black youth comprised 21% of the population in Florida under 18, but accounted for 50.9% of youth arrests and it is the arrests that determine which Floridians will be saddled with fee debt.
  • Youth in both the child welfare and delinquency systems are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of fees. Youth in the child welfare system do not have financial support from their families or from the Department of Children and Families; they are at greater risk of being pulled into the justice system and acquiring fee debt.
  • Judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, and probation professionals oppose fees on youth. The 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 all acknowledge the need to end juvenile fees.

Download the full report here.