“Court fines and fees criminalize poverty. They have a disparate, inequitable effect on communities of color without improving public safety, and they have for decades.”
Chief Justice Steven González, Washington State Supreme Court
CCYJ, joining our coalition of nearly 20 partner organizations at the Debt Free Youth Justice-WA coalition, as well as people directly impacted, is calling for the elimination of youth Fines, Fees & Restitution, and for victims to receive financial reparations.
Under state law, juvenile court debt from administrative fees and fines is uncollectible and county clerks are prohibited from accepting payments. Unfortunately, more than $40 million across approximately 143,000 juvenile cases is still on the books. Courts can’t collect it, but this debt impacts credit ratings and may be owned by collection agencies, which has long-term consequences for tens of thousands of individuals and families. Many of these Washingtonians have been out of the juvenile justice system for decades, yet this court debt follows them.
Petitioning the court to waive old debt is costly and time-consuming; only an estimated 3% of eligible individuals will get relief via individual motion. Furthermore, counties may be exposing themselves to liability by maintaining uncollectible debt – if a clerk, even unknowingly, accepts payment for an old juvenile court fee, they would be breaking the law.
- Washington’s courts are decentralized so each court is handling LFO relief differently.
- Court rules require a motion in each individual case and there is no designated party to file these motions.
- Few courts are complying with 2022’s HB 2050 which required courts to waive “parent pay” debt for county-level juvenile detention fees.
- Most counties have not even developed a standardized form or process for individuals to seek relief.
The Skagit County Clerk’s office developed an innovative solution in partnership with their civil prosecuting attorney. They file an ex parte motion, the judge grants it, and they zero out the uncollectible debt. Individuals and prosecutors are not required to appear.
The state legislature should direct courts to develop an ex parte process, similar to Skagit County’s, to eliminate uncollectible juvenile court debt and to satisfy any open judgements associated with the debt. Washingtonians who have long ago left the justice system should not bear lifelong financial consequences of youthful mistakes.