NJ abolishes remaining juvenile court fines and will clear balances

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TRENTON — New Jersey has waived its remaining fines and fees imposed in juvenile court and will soon clear any unpaid debts children and their families may have accrued as a result of those convictions.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed S3319 last week, part of the typical wave of lame sessions of unfinished new legislation. In this case, the bill had passed the Senate in June – and was actually the follow-up to a 2020 law that removed certain financial penalties for minors.

“This bill is a crucial continuation of the work the Legislature has done over the past few years to equalize and streamline our youth justice system in the state,” said Laura Cohen, professor at Rutgers Law. School which teaches a clinic representing young people in the juvenile system.

Cohen said little to no money is collected from fines and the costs of trying to collect could outweigh revenues.

“It’s important to families in New Jersey. It’s important to young people in New Jersey. This is important for economic justice,” Cohen said.

A multi-state movement

Lindsey Smith, staff attorney for the Juvenile Law Center’s Debt-Free Justice, said 13 other states have also passed bills eliminating fines and fees in juvenile court.

“These charges cause economic harm,” Smith said. “They are collected via a civil judgment imposed on children and families. It makes it much more difficult for them to apply for rentals, get jobs, get student loans – those basic, key steps for young people.

Bill eliminates a drug and demand reduction penalty, fees for an HIV/AIDS serology test in some cases, fees for an ordered remedial education or counseling program by the court, a civil penalty of at least $2,000 for responding to a false public alarm, a $25 forensic lab fee, and a $15 officer training and equipment fund fee law enforcement

Beginning approximately 10 months, any outstanding balance of monetary penalties, including civil judgments and warrants, will be discharged.

“Eliminating these fees will help break the cycle of poverty that often stems from historically biased institutions,” Murphy said in a statement at the signing of the bill. “Imposing fines and fees to youth involved in the justice system often falls disproportionately on minority and low-income families.”

‘Accept the consequences’

Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, said the fines were not extraordinary and should not have been waived.

“There are consequences to people’s actions, and I think it’s honestly good for young people in New Jersey to learn that as soon as possible,” Webber said.

Webber said if someone has to find a job to pay those fines in juvenile court or reimburse their family to cover those costs, “that could be one of the best rehab services we can provide.”

“They need to step up and face the consequences of their actions, satisfy them, and move on,” Webber said. “And that’s how our society works.”

Here’s how the voting went. The names of Democrats are shaded in blue, Republicans in red.

Senate, 28-9 June 30, 2021

Yes: batman, Beach, Brown, Coded, Corrado, Cruz-Perez, Cryan, Cunningham, Diegnan, Gill, Gopal, Greenstein, Lagana, O’ Scanlon, Pou, Rice, Ruiz, Sacco, Sarlo, Scutari, A singer, Singleton, Smith, Pile, Sweeney, Turner, Vitale, Weinberg

No: Bucco, Connors, Doherty, Holzapfel, Kean, Oroho, Pennacchio, Testa, Thompson

Do not vote: addiego, crazy, Schepisi

Assembly, 50-21 December 20, 2021

Yes: Armato, Benson, Burzichelli, Carter, Chaparro, Chiaravalloti, Conaway, Coughlin, Danielsen, DeAngelo, DeFuccio, Downey, Egan, Freiman, Greenwald, Holley, Houghtaling, Jasey, Jimenez, Johnson, Karabinchak, Kennedy, Lampitt, Lopez, Mazzeo, McKeon, McKnight, Mejia, Moen, Moriarty, Mosquera, Mukherji, Murphy, Stones, Pintor Marin, Reynolds-Jackson, Schaer, Spearman, Speight, Stanfield, Stanley, Sumter, Swain, Taliaferro, Timberlake, Tucker, Tully, Vainiéri Huttle, Verrelli, Wimberly

No: Auth, Bergen, Catalano, Clifton, Dancer, DeCroce, DePhillips, DiMaio, DiMaso, Dunn, Gove, McClellan, McGuckin, Peterson, Rooney, Rumpf, Scharfenberger, Simonsen, Thomson, Webber, Wirths

Do not vote: Bramnick, Calabrian, Caputo, Giblin, Kean, Munoz, Quijano, Space, Zwicker

Michael Symons is the State House Bureau Chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at [email protected].

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