A new report says that across the country, indigent juveniles who find themselves on the wrong side of the law have their way out of the justice system blocked by court costs, fines and fees. But an Evanston-based advocate for those offenders, youths here rarely face those financial hurdles.
The Juvenile Justice Center report revealed that courts in all 50 states make defendants responsible for costs associated with, among others, lab tests, parole, and court fees. In many cases, if offenders can’t pay, they face penalties that can lead to jail time and more fees.
But Patrick Keenan-Devlin executive director of the Moran Center for Youth Advocacy says that in his experience, the situation in Cook County is “a lot less inequitable than [it is] across the country.”
“Cook County juvenile court judges are extremely lenient when it comes to imposing any costs on juveniles,” Keenan-Devlin said. “My experience has been that judges will say, ‘the Juvenile Court Act’s intention is to rehabilitate and restore, not serve as a collection agency.’”
Because Keenan-Devlin works exclusively with indigent juvenile offenders, he said he was unsure if this financial leniency extended to all youths or only those who are unable to pay.
However, he said that Cook County judges do not impose the DNA testing fee associated with the mucosal swab required for everyone charged with a felony.
“For my indigent clients, it is always waived,” Keenan-Devlin said. “I don’t even have to say anything anymore in court in order to make sure that fee is waived.”
But the issue is still a big one elsewhere in Illinois. According to Keenan-Devlin, other jurisdictions, including Lake County, impose fines as reported by the Juvenile Justice Center.
“I have thankfully been successful in advocating within Lake County Juvenile Court to have those fines and fees waived based upon indigency, but I also know from experience that the defense council is not always successful in making those arguments,” he said.
Keenan-Devlin said that he, along with Lisa Jacobs of Loyola Law School’s Criminal Justice Institute and President Betsy Clarke of the Juvenile Justice Initiative are seeking to find out which other jurisdictions within Illinois impose costs and fees on youth offenders and to work toward a solution.
“What happens, unfortunately, is that if we don’t see something wrong in Cook County, we assume it’s not happening in the rest of Illinois,” Keenan-Devlin said. “This is obviously happening in other jurisdictions, and we need to find out what jurisdictions are using this against children and what we can do about it.”