As someone who has experienced our youth justice system, I want to share my story –that explains why I support House Bill 1493 and why I spoke at the statehouse to offer my support for this bill.
In the 7th grade, I was pulled out of my classroom by the police because of unpaid costs and fees. I was too young to remember exactly what those costs and fees were, but as the police took me into the hall and searched me, the bell rang and everyone saw. It was my worst nightmare come true at that age. The embarrassment of that day followed me around for years. My peers were still reminding me of it through high school.
I was a kid and I wasn’t a bad kid – I just made an unfortunate choice in what looking back feels like an impossible situation.
My mom was livid that day. She felt it was unfair for a child to be taken from class and served a warrant for unpaid fees. What was my mom supposed to do? She was a single mom who could not pay. I didn’t have a job and I couldn’t pay.
Eventually, we went back to court and a judge dropped the cost. But it took time and the damage was done. I know my mom was relieved financially because we didn’t have that cost hanging over us, but I was still facing embarrassment at school and the image I had of myself was altered.
I was innocent before that day. But I was treated like a criminal after. My teachers and my peers saw me differently. As a result, I started to see myself differently too.
My point in sharing my story is simple: Expensive and unaffordable costs and fees don’t teach kids that they have a future. It takes small, petty crimes and holds kids’ hostage. It sends a message to kids, especially kids whose families can’t afford it, that the mistakes they made will follow them forever. I never want any of my children to face what I did or have to overcome it.
Having experienced court fees as a child, the high amount and what can happen when they go unpaid, I know firsthand that they hurt kids. It negates the purpose of rehabilitating kids, which is what our youth justice system should do. I hope to see House Bill 1493 pass because it would eliminate some of the costs and fees for kids facing our juvenile justice system.