Many states require criminals to make financial restitution to the victims of their crimes -- paying to replace the things the damaged or stole -- and this applies to juvenile offenders as well as adults.
The result is that juvenile offenders who have served their time and are trying to rebuild their lives, re-establish their educations, and set themselves on the path to a future apart from the criminal justice system and imprisonment can find themselves saddled with massive debts -- and if they fail to make payments on those debts, they can end up back in prison for the new offense of failing to make restitution payments.
In 30 states, kids can end up owing restitution payments to insurance companies -- fantastically profitable businesses that exist to absorb financial losses from events like crimes.
Restitution is also sometimes offered as an alternative to incarceration, meaning that poor kids go to jail, and rich kids pay off their victims and go free.
The Washington Post examines several instances in which juvenile offenders have been saddled with debts that they cannot afford, like Sophie McMullan a homeless teenaged abuse survivor with PTSD who once accompanied her boyfriend on one of several burglaries he committed; under the Maine's "accomplice liability" law she now has to make restitution for a share of all her (ex-)boyfriend's crimes -- she ended up being re-arrested when she fell behind on payments. When she got out, she kept up payments at $20/month, which meant that she couldn't afford a snowsuit for her baby.
A 15-year-old from Maine who fought back against a school bully was ordered to pay Mainecare $12,347.33 for his bully's injuries.
In a 2017 Massachusetts case, for example, the state offered a teenage boy a deal to reduce to misdemeanors his charges related to breaking-and-entering and larceny of a business—but only if he agreed to pay $5,000 in restitution, according to court records. He agreed and is now homeless as he tries to pay his debt.
“So many resources are being spent litigating whether his payments are regular enough that we could just pay to the victim,” said Mara Shulman, his lawyer. The boy asked not to be named. Prosecutors acknowledge that many of these payments are made in small increments, which means that victims must wait years to be fully compensated for their losses.
Courts’ success in collecting juvenile restitution varies by state: Connecticut, for example, recovered about 87 percent of the amount owed by young people over the past five years; in Mississippi, the rate was 28 percent. For amounts of more than $10,000, the payment rate is nearly zero in many states.
Punishing Kids With Years of Debt [Sarah Rice/Washington Post]
(via Naked Capitalism)