Bills to eliminating majority of court fees for Michigan juveniles get Senate hearing ⋆
Youth criminal justice stakeholders told lawmakers this week that some families of juveniles in Michigan owe upwards of $100,000 in non-restitution related fees to the court. They added that the time and money dedicated to collection of those fees outweighs any benefit to the state and Black families often bear the highest debts.
The Michigan Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee heard testimony Thursday for the Senate’s version of a package of youth indignant defense bills. Similar legislation was introduced in the House.
Part of the package in the Senate includes eliminating fees charged to juveniles and their families that aren’t restitution to victims in their case. Under Senate Bills 428 through 431, courts would be prohibited from ordering juveniles to pay costs associated with being placed outside of their home, performing community service, informal consent calendar hearings, among other existing fees.
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After studying how discretionary fees rarely equate to revenue and have a palpable negative impact on families, Macomb’s 16th Circuit Court in 2021 eliminated non-restitution related fees, including fees related to detention and residential placements, Juvenile Division Director Nicole Faulds testified Thursday. Faulds said the court in 2020 was challenged by the Michigan Center for Youth Justice to examine the impact of fees and assess their value in the county.
“When families had an understanding of the cost that they could owe, they were less likely to ask for help with issues and behaviors that could result in a probation violation and their child being detained or placed in residential placement,” Faulds said. “The stress and frustration from debt associated with fines and fees created or exacerbated problems between youth and their families.”
In 2020, Macomb County had $92 million in unpaid juvenile related debt, dating back to cases from the 90’s, Faulds said, with about $84 million of debt coming from the cost of juvenile detention and residential placement. Between 2017 and 2019 the county assessed $11.7 million in fines and fees, with some families with youth who had spent time in out-of-home placements with over $100,000 in court-related bills.
Detention and residential facilities can cost $100 to $250 on average a day for families in Macomb County, Faulds said.
“The over representation of Black youth in detention and residential placements meant that Black families bore the brunt of the highest debt,” Faulds said.
And efforts to collect those debts garnered little success. Even after tax returns or other methods, the average collection rate for the 16th court from 2015 through 2020 was 7.2% of the outstanding debts, Faulds said, adding that generated little revenue after the cost dedicated to collection.
And collection of those fines have negative impacts for families Jennifer Peacock, policy director for Michigan Center for Youth Justice said.
“Fines … reduced successful outcomes and young people … that are often finding themselves pushed deeper into poverty experience higher recidivism rates … and may be unable to obtain a driver’s license or expunge court records,” Peacock said. “Families have also reported being forced to decide between paying these court fees or meeting essentials like rent and groceries.”
Communities that have at least. in part, eliminated non-restitution juvenile court fees, like in Macomb, Washtenaw and Wayne counties, can redirect funding and resources from collection to community-based care that reduces recidivism, Peacock said.
Since eliminating discretionary fees, Faulds said the 16th Circuit Court in Macomb County has seen increased engagement from juveniles and families in seeking resources, resources have been able to be redistributed to better serve the community and limit incarceration and payment of restitution to victims and other mandatory fees have increased.
Representatives of an assortment of groups around the state wrote in with their support of the bills including: The Department of Attorney General, Michigan Catholic Conference, Michigan Association of Counties, Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and Michigan League for Public Policy.
State Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake), April 21, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins
State Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) raised concerns over the legislation, particularly with SB 428, which outlines the majority of fees for deletion. Part of the bill would eliminate the ability for courts to place juveniles in facilities for the “intentional” nonpayment of restitution or “intentional” refusal to perform community service. Under the bill, juveniles could not be placed in a facility “soley” for non-payment of restitution or refusal to do community service.
“This bill is a sledge hammer on everything. There is no parsing out between what’s actually occurring. It’s just, ‘No, you’re not going to place them in a juvenile detention center for non-payment of restitution or refusal to do community service.’” Runstead said. “I don’t understand that. You refuse. You say, ‘I’m not paying any fees. I’m not doing any community service.’ [And the answer is:] ‘OK. Just walk.’ There needs to be some penalties.”
He said other parts of the package don’t distinguish between lesser, often one-time offenders and “hardened criminals” and would amount to courts losing the ability to hold juveniles to account.
Other youth indignant defense bills were taken up by the committee Thursday, as well as legislation aimed at expanding victims rights and resources.
Committee Chair Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) said votes on bills will be coming soon.
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authored by Anna Liz Nichols
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