Overdue for Justice: An Assessment of Access to and Quality of Juvenile Defense Counsel in Michigan


In some cases, it can cost a youth and families more to go through the juvenile court system than to cover the cost of attendance at the University of Michigan School of Law or Michigan State University.

This report is the product of the National Juvenile Defender Center’s year-long assessment of Michigan’s juvenile court system. The authors discuss the accessibility and quality of representation, the juvenile court system’s lack of funding and oversight from the state, and the ways youth experience injustice based on economic disparities. The report concludes by outlining the steps Michigan is taking to improve its juvenile justice system and recommendations for additional reform.

You can read the full text of the report here

Key findings

  • Requiring youth and families to pay for constitutionally-required defense creates barriers to representation and may discourage the appointment of counsel, or result in the termination of counsel prematurely or the creation of conflicts of interests for attorneys.
  • Courts may add late fees,  garnish wages, or impose bench warrants, tax intercepts, and collection from government benefits to compel payment. Once assessed, debt collection continues indefinitely, burdening youth and families unless the court takes action to provide relief.  
  • The juvenile delinquency courts that track income information on youth involved in the juvenile justice system reported that 60 percent of those youth and families were on public assistance or made less than $20,000. Another 20 percent of youth and families had an income level of less than $30,000. 
  • Even when bail conditions are met, bail payments may not be returned to the parent or guardian, but instead may be applied to reimbursement costs or other court fines and fees.


  • Ensure that cash bail does not prevent youth from gaining pretrial release.  
  • Eliminate or substantially reduce juvenile court fines and fees. 
  • Ensure adequate funding to support an effective system of juvenile defense services.  
  • Eliminate reimbursement fees that youth and families pay for representation.
Kim Tandy
Justice by Design, LLC
National Juvenile Defender Center