The High Costs of “Justice”: A Snapshot of Juvenile Court Fines and Fees in Michigan

Through information collected from counties, advocates, community members and court involved families, the National Center for Youth Law published this brief summarizing the impact of juvenile court fines and fees in Michigan. The author also presents recommendations for reforming Michigan’s system of assessing and collecting juvenile fines and fees.

You can read the full text of the report here

Key Findings:

  • Juvenile court fines and fees are inconsistently and unfairly assessed against and collected from Michigan families. 
  • Multiple families in one county reported an extremely high cost for detention and other facility stays, ranging from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees. Families also reported that the juvenile court assessment and collection process was confusing and difficult to navigate. 
  • Few Michigan courts have publicly taken steps to prioritize juvenile court fines and fees reform despite low collection rates. 
  • According to documents from 2018, multiple courts were assessing millions of dollars against families each year, with collection rates of less than 5 percent. 
  • Juvenile court fines and fees have a lasting harmful impact on Michigan families, particularly low income and Black families. 
  • Some sources shared that until a young person had paid outstanding debt, the juvenile court might continue a youth’s probation or place youth on unsupervised probation, and youth who age out of juvenile court with outstanding financial obligations may be detained in adult jail, with the bond for their release set at part or all of what they owed the juvenile court.


  • Michigan courts must exercise their legally permissible options to waive certain fines and fees and make reasonable determinations of a family’s  ability to pay. 
  • The Governor and State Supreme Court should issue a moratorium on the assessment and collection of juvenile court fines and fees for at least the next year, in light of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Courts should prioritize studying data on their assessment and collection of fines and fees, including identifying the actual revenue collected and alternative sources for that net revenue. 
  • Courts should design and implement a measurable one-year action plan to reduce or eliminate assessment and collection.
  • The Legislature should move forward on recommendations in the September 2019 Trial Court Funding Commission report to ensure funding for circuit courts is adequate and does not fall on the backs of vulnerable youth and their families. 
  • Michigan policymakers should address the inequities inherent in the juvenile court fines and fees system by ending the assessment and collection of money from juvenile court-involved families. 
Atasi Uppal
National Center for Youth Law