In a move to help struggling households, Shelby County officials have opted to stop charging Juvenile Court fees not ordered by state law.
The announcement came during a joint press conference (Aug. 26) that included Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr., Mayor Lee Harris, Juvenile Court Clerk Janice Fullilove and Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael.
“Discussions by these elected officials have led to the unanimous conclusion that relieving the financial burdens incurred by parents and guardians of court-involved children is simply the right thing to do,” states a news release about the change.
Leon Gray, special assistant to Judge Michael, on Wednesday said most of the people who are assessed the fees are low income, “and to assess the fees to them is just not fair.”
Gray said the cost of housing a juvenile is $125 a night and the average stay in the detention center is 23 days.
Since the vast majority of the fees are not being collected, “we’re not losing any money, so it’s no big deal,” said Gray, emphasizing that the fee waiver has nothing to do with child support payments. Numerous callers have asked if there is a link between the two, he said.
Families are also burdened by unexpected costs of the juvenile court system, including missing time from work for court appearances.
“It’s the court’s job to try and relieve the stress and pressure, which additional financial obligations can bring to families, and this adjustment is designed to do just that by stripping the fees and court costs to the bare minimum under the statutes,” said Michael in the release.
Harris said the move would put more justice-involved youth on the path of rehabilitation.
“These fees end up trapping low-income families in a cycle of debt that makes it incredibly difficult for children to leave the system,” Harris said. “Removing these fees will be a great relief to families.”
Fullilove also noted that the fines, fees and court costs “disproportionately impact poor communities.”
“I support the court in its efforts to reduce any of the costs that I am not statutorily bound to collect. We look forward to working with the mayor, the judge and the sheriff.”
Bonner, whose office runs the detention center at Juvenile Court, said, waiving fees not statutorily mandated is definitely “a step in the right direction for youth justice.”
“Our goal is to reduce the stress and trauma for families whose children are involved with the court. Eliminating burdensome fees will help the families focus on healing and providing emotional support for their children.”
Waivers to all fees not required by the state have already been put in place.
Most of the fees assessed to juveniles have not been collected, meaning the change will have a negligible impact on the county’s budget, Harris said.