A recent study set out to determine how monetary sanctions can affect the likelihood young people will reoffend. Do fees and fines act as a deterrent, steering juvenile offenders away from future crimes?
In “A Statewide Analysis of the Impact of Restitution and Fees on Juvenile Recidivism in Florida Across Race & Ethnicity,” researchers found that fees and restitution assessed against young people actually increased juvenile recidivism in Florida.
This was especially true for Black and Hispanic youth who received more costly fines, even though both groups had financial penalties assessed at similar proportions to white juvenile offenders.
“When we think about the criminal justice system, and we think about helping kids, especially kids, we want to do as little harm as possible,” lead study author Alex Piquero told The Crime Report. “That’s the overall goal of the system. And these kinds of punishments aren’t meeting that objective, they’re having the opposite effect.”
Dollars and Cents
The average dollar amount of fees for Black youth in Florida was $709.50, $633.33 for Hispanic youth and $426.50 for white youth. However, restitution payments were relatively the same among the groups.
The overall average of fees assessed in the study was $587.57, excluding young people who were not assessed any fines. Restitution payments had an average of $1,864.81.
Fees were highest for property offenses, felony or administrative offenses and among youth with higher “risk levels.” But according to the study, just under 70 percent of the youth sampled in the study were classified as low risk. So how did those fees impact youth recidivism?
For the analysis, the authors defined recidivism as “a new-law offense that occurred within 365 days of the youth completing their focal community-based placement.”
A Shoddy Deterrent?
According to the report, 19.4 percent of youth who were assigned fees committed a new crime compared to 15.7 percent who were not charged fees. Restitution payments had little impact on rates of recidivism.
“These fees charged to children and their families are promoting recidivism instead of rehabilitation,” said Sarah Couture, Florida State Director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center.
But the report revealed that fines and restitutions had a greater impact on youth beyond increasing recidivism. Higher fees were assessed to youth in disadvantaged communities, despite the rates remaining nearly the same.
“Fees undermine the purpose of the juvenile system — which should be to help support young people’s development and set them up for success,” Couture said.
Alex Piquero, Ph.D., lead author of the study during his time as a professor of criminology at the University of Miami, told The Crime Report that some of the kids he and his co-authors interviewed for the report said they didn’t know where they were going to come up with the money to pay their fees.
“Some of them even said, you know, I might have to do illegal activity,” Piquero said. ”That’s the last thing we want to have kids do, is think about that they need to do this again and they can’t even pay their current fee.
Piquero now serves as the Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. His co-authors are Kevin Wolff, Ph.D., and Michael T. Baglivio, Ph.D.. Wolff is an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Baglivio is CEO of Analytic Initiatives, LLC.
“There’s nothing good about that process, so, you know, this is just one more thing that just says this is not the appropriate way to punish kids,” Piquero said.
According to the report, the high assessment of fees to youth from disadvantaged communities compliments research from a previous report from the Fines and Fees Justice Center that found that in 2019, only 11 percent or $547,973 of the $5.1 million in fines and restitutions assessed against youth in Florida was actually collected.
“Charging kids money for their unfortunate involvement in the criminal legal system forces them into the vicious cycle of recidivism,” said Ebby Stoutmiles, State Policy Advocate with Juvenile Law Center, in the study’s press release. “Research shows that these financial burdens create economic stress for the whole family.”
As the study documents, youth serving time in Florida Detention Centers were unsure how to pay for the sanctions, as were many of their families. According to a survey of 45 people in Florida Juvenile Detention Centers, a third did not know if they had the money to afford the fines assessed against them.
While many of the respondents said they believe they should have to pay when charged with a crime (though many said their families should not), they reported varying levels of ability to pay any fees in excess of a hypothetical $100 charge.
Over 15 percent said they would have to delay payments for other bills if they paid themselves, and a third reported that their families would have to put off paying other bills if made to pay for them. Of the young people in the residential program ages 12 to 19 years old that were surveyed, 37.8 percent told researchers they would have to borrow to pay a fee over $100 because they have no way of making money.
Just over 13 percent of respondents felt they would have to reoffend to obtain the money to pay off the sanctions.
“When we think about the range of punishments that can be handed down, whether to adults or juveniles, the last thing we want to do is make the problem worse,” Piquero said. “And here we have another piece of that puzzle saying we’re making the problem worse and we should be moving away from that, not towards it.”