Did you know that Arizona is the birthplace of due process rights for youth in juvenile court? In 1967 an Arizona court case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that young people are entitled to constitutional rights, such as the right to counsel. Public policy steps like these are essential to ensuring that we are all equal under the law.
Yet today, Arizona law undermines that. It may seem simple, but the impacts of current practice harm children and families. Currently, court administrative fees – separate from punitive fines and victim restitution – have effectively limited access to counsel, harmed struggling families, and disproportionately burdened youth of color.
Although the original intent of juvenile fees may not have been to punish, research shows that they are harmful, racially discriminatory, undermine youth success, and impose high costs on families with little benefit to communities.
For example, many families simply do not have the financial means to pay these fees, so they are forced into debt, which then goes to a debt collector – impacting their ability to buy a car or rent an apartment. Further, some children decline representation by a public defender because they worry that the fees could cause financial strain on their families.
The result is families going broke, children ending up further entangled in the court system and, because of unpaid fees in their account, they are unable to destroy their juvenile record once they are an adult. Meanwhile, significant resources are spent trying to collect debt from families, resulting in any anticipated revenue going to debt collectors.
This is a lose-lose situation. It doesn’t provide revenue for the community, and it does nothing to help the child get back on track.
Stand AZ is working on legislation to fix this. We are proposing to end the imposition of these fees on youth and their families and ensure that all youth regardless of their zip code, race, and families’ economic position have the same access to rehabilitation options.
We are optimistic that we can get this done, with bipartisan support both at the legislature, and from Arizona voters. In our most recent annual survey, a majority of voter's support eliminating fees associated with juvenile courts.
From Stand for Children AZ 2020 Annual Survey
There is a clear path to help so many families, but we need your help.
Take action with us! Answer the survey on Youth Justice in Arizona and make your voice heard.