Minors Facing Major Debt: The Immense Burden of Court Fees on Macomb County Youth and Families

  • As of June 30, 2020, Macomb retained $92,000,000 in outstanding debt from delinquency cases, adding approximately $4,000,000 to this amount every year. The bulk of the outstanding debt, $84,000,000, or 91 percent of the total, was solely for cost of care.

The Michigan Center for Youth Justice (MCYJ), in partnership with the National Center for Youth Law and the 16th Judicial Division, developed an innovation site in Macomb County, Michigan. In addition to interviews with twenty-one legal guardians and one youth to learn about their experiences with juvenile court debt, MCYJ collected and analyzed data from the Macomb Juvenile Division, their Reimbursement Division, and the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO). This report assesses the extent to which the court used fines and fees to fund its court operations, calculates the real costs associated with assessments and collections, and presents recommendations for juvenile debt reform. 

You can access the full text of the report here. 

Key Findings: 

  • 60 percent of the families who completed the Ability to Pay verification process were found to be indigent and  were given a deferral. 
  • SCAO encourages courts to consider waiving the costs of care and implementing enforcement alternatives, but it did not appear that Macomb County utilized the waiver process or enforcement alternatives. 
  • Most of the families interviewed did not understand that they could request a payment plan. Of the 22 interviewed, 5 made a request and were able to set up payment plans, 3 fell behind due to pandemic related unemployment. 
  • Macomb estimates that only 15 percent of families requested a formal hearing to set aside their debt. 
  • 33 percent of Macomb’s 2019 juvenile court collections came from state income tax intercepts. 
  • Black youth in Macomb were overrepresented in every stage of their juvenile justice system. In 2019 Black youth who account for 17 percent of Macomb’s youth population, made up 53 percent of total arrests, 45 percent of all detention placements, and 51 percent of all longer term residential confinements. 
  • The families interviewed reported an average of $87,165 in court debt. 
  • Between 2015 and 2019, the average collection rate was 7.2 percent. In 2021, the Reimbursement Division budgeted for eight full-time staff to collect on delinquency and neglect/abuse cases, spending 60 percent of their time and budget on delinquency cases. 


  • Eliminate the assessment and collection of all discretionary and waivable fines and fees in delinquency cases.
  • Permanently discharge all outstanding debt and notify families that their debt has been discharged. 
  • Reduce the number of youth held in detention and residential placements. 

In June of 2021, the Macomb County Circuit Court ruled that it will no longer require families of young people to provide reimbursement for detention, housing, residential facilities, court-appointed attorney costs and probation. Read more on the court’s decision here.

Liz George, Adrianna Duchene, and Mary King 
Michigan Center for Youth Justice