MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Starting Monday, families of juvenile offenders in Shelby County will no longer have to pay expensive court fees unless otherwise mandated by state law. Officials say it’s a major step to helping young offenders and their families toward rehabilitation.
“It’s just not right,” said Juvenile Justice Judge Dan Michael. “It’s unfair for parents who are struggling financially whose children committed a delinquent act to be stuck with these huge fees."
The change was made with families in mind.
“To waive these fees is only to help the families,” said Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner.
Juvenile court fees can add up quickly. For example, it costs $125 per day for a juvenile to be detained. An average stay for a juvenile is 32 days, leaving families with a $4,000 bill.
Shelby County officials say the vast majority of fees are going unpaid.
“Instead these families would have to file bankruptcy because of the onerous amount or they just wouldn’t pay them,” said Michael.
Those fees were part of a cycle, according to county officials. Criminalizing and economically hurting parents and creating a scenario in which families, many of whom may already be dealing with poverty, had a difficult time helping their children get on the right track.
“Taking a holistic approach in trying to value the family if you will,” said Bonner.
“What it will do is it will give those families more financial wherewithal to become whole and help their children rehabilitate once they come home,” said Michael.
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris says the loss of these fees will not affect the budget. The county was already covering most of the costs since fees are so often unpaid.
As for previous unpaid court fees, Michael says he has no objection to waiving fees that were accessed in the past, especially if they were unpaid.