Injustice in the Lowest Courts: How Municipal Courts Rob America’s Youth

In collaboration with the Juvenile Law Center, Columbia Law School’s Community Advocacy Lab examined the constitutions and laws of each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia to better understand municipal courts and the consequences youth and their families face for failure to pay. Researchers found that municipal courts expose youth to significant harm without providing adequate procedural protections, but developmentally appropriate diversion programs could provide effective alternatives. The authors also recommend opportunities for ongoing research and reform. 

Key Findings: 

  • In all 30 states that have municipal courts, fines and fees may be imposed for violations that might typically affect youth. 
  • Municipalities budget as much as 10 to 30 percent of revenue from municipal fines and fees.
  • Only some states explicitly permit or require their municipal courts to determine whether individuals are able to pay and adjust accordingly.  
  • Failure to pay fines and fees can result in incarceration, suspension of driver’s licenses, or civil judgement enforcement mechanisms such as wage garnishment.

You can read the full report here

Nola Anderson, Randy Kreider, Kristen Schnell
Community Advocacy Lab at Columbia Law School and Juvenile Law Center