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The 8th amendment to the we The Constitution states that excessive bail, fines and fees should not be imposed on anyone who goes through the court system. Two centuries after the document was ratified, supporters say this may not be the case.
Many court fines and related costs can have a disproportionate impact on young people and their families, especially low-income families.
Frederick Epps is a single father. Her daughter committed a felony in 2020, when she was underage, and was charged by Macomb County Court.
Epps says he received very little information about the case, but one of the things he found out was that he was responsible for all of his daughter’s legal costs, totaling thousands of dollars.
He said he was afraid of what might happen to the rest of his family as a result.
“The main thing that worried me was the garnish. You know, because… I’m a single parent of five children, ”he explains. “So that was really my initial concern for the garnishment. Which, terribly interrupted, allows me to pay my bills and be able to provide for her and the rest of my children.
Epps says the system is too hard on young people and their families.
“I think it’s, in a way, unconstitutional… because it limits us there, but the freedom to pursue it is worth pursuing the everyday happiness… ”he said. “I don’t see how we can be legally responsible for something that we don’t have any type on our face or what facility they’re going to, what kind of help they’re going to get.”
Epps says there has to be another way to hold young people to account, without getting into heavy debt on them or their families.
“So I think they should be… made aware of the responsibility of taking action in a way that won’t impact the rest of their life… that won’t impact them… financially. But it can still have an impact if they drag community service or things of that nature. “
No other option
Wayne County Commission Chair Alicia Bell has worked on youth justice reform issues for 20 years.
Bell says there are too many examples of high bail fees and court fines causing irreversible damage to families, especially young people. She remembers the story of a 16-year-old in New York who couldn’t get the bond he needed.
“Because he couldn’t have the $ 300 to go out on bail, he stayed there for years, ”she said. “Subsequently, he committed suicide because of the way he was treated in this adult prison at age 16. And only because he didn’t have the $ 300 to be released on bail.”
Bell says there must be fairness in the laws that protect the people they govern. She says being low income should not determine a young person’s future in the juvenile justice system.
“I’m just saying that with a reform of the cash bond, in my opinion, I’m not saying we have to eliminate it, but I’m saying that it has to be distributed equally, ”she explains. “Just because you have money to bail out and the crimes are the same doesn’t mean you have to go home and the other person [can’t] only because they don’t have the money just to go to jail.
Lawyers demand more data
Advocates across the state have pointed out for decades that there is not enough data or research collected to assess the impacts of the cash bond system.
Dr. Caitlin Cavanagh leads the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice Youth Risk Assessment Team. His team worked with the 30th Ingham County Circuit Court, collecting long-term data on minors and the impact of fees, fines and detention on the entire family.
“We are not preparing families to successfully assist the justice system with the common goal of rehabilitating young people if we also impose unnecessary fines and fees on those families that could be catastrophic for their financial situation. – Dr Caitlin Cavanaugh, MSU School of Criminal Justice
Cavanagh says courts need to do more research to better understand what happens after court-imposed fees are paid.
“I think a mistake a lot of courts or researchers make is getting data at some point because it’s really just a snapshot which could be an odd year for some reason.
Cavanagh says the lack of research into the effect of bail and other legal costs is impacting some of Michigan’s most vulnerable people.
“We are not preparing families to successfully assist the justice system with the common goal of rehabilitating young people if we also impose unnecessary fines and fees on those families that could be catastrophic for their financial situation. I don’t see how that helps achieve what the goal is supposed to be to rehabilitate young people.
Last year, the Michigan Center for Youth Justice and the 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Macomb County, along with national partners, collaborated on a year-long study to take a closer look at the impact of fines and fees. related to the courts.
Jason Smith is the executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice. He says the data proved the fees were hurting Macomb County circuit court families rather than helping them.
Smith says officials understood a change was needed.
“Macomb Juvenile Court realized that once you factor in those costs, reconciliation with the state, and the cost of collecting fees, the amount of money they brought in was negligible. He said. “Especially in relation to the harm it caused to young people or to families which are obstacles to a positive interaction with them.”
In June, Macomb County circuit courts became the first in the state to remove court-imposed fees for minors.
Frederick Epps says that no matter what or how it happened, seeing his daughter’s future unfold was an incredible feeling.
“It’s a blessing because she’s able to work now… having a free conscience that she doesn’t feel like she has to pay me back, ”he says.
In July, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the creation of the Juvenile Justice Reform Task Force, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist. The task force will take a closer look at proven reform practices and strategies using evidence, research and fundamental constitutional principles.