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Impact of Juvenile Justice Fines and Fees on Family Life: Case Study in Dane County, WI

Executive Summary

National attention has recently turned towards fines and fees in the criminal justice system and the
ways in which these legal financial obligations further exacerbate poverty and racial inequality.
People involved in the justice system across the country often face many challenges due to their
involvement in court, including burdensome fees. Many families find it difficult to pay these bills,
leading to a cycle of debt and financial struggle. Most of this attention to fines and fees, however,
has focused on the adult system, whereas little attention has been given to parents and youth
involved in the juvenile justice system who face similar financial obligations. Charges to youth
who commit crimes are complicated by the fact that youth often do not have the financial means
to pay. Parents are often left with the financial burden of these fines and fees even though they did
not commit any crime.

This report presents selected findings from a study on fines and fees in the juvenile justice system
in Dane County, Wisconsin as part of an on-going collaborative project with Juvenile Law Center.
Drawing on interviews with 20 parents and their children conducted in July-September 2018, we
explore how parents and youth experience and perceive fines and fees. Drawing on 10 additional
interviews of victims eligible for restitution for crimes committed by youth, we also explore
victims’ experiences with restitution and their views on this particular financial obligation for
youth. Parents in Dane County can face many different charges for their child’s involvement in
court, ranging from $130/night for stays in the Juvenile Detention Centera to $240 for a Public
Defender in a misdemeanor case. Of the parents we interviewed, the average amount of money
charged is $1,796. Youth can also be charged up to a maximum of $1,000 for victim restitution.
This report focuses not only on the specific fines and fees and respective amounts that parents and
youth are asked to pay, but also the impact of Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) on their family
life. Our research reveals that these charges impose a significant financial burden on families. We
also explore how participants view potential and actual alternatives to LFOS.


Source: Juvenile Law Center (2019). Impact of Juvenile Justice Fines and Fees on Family Life: Case Study in Dane County, WI.