Assemblyman Raj Mukherji. (Photo by Danielle Richards for New Jersey Monitor)
A bill that would eliminate many fines and costs imposed on juvenile offenders now heads to Gov. Phil Murphy after passing in the Legislature.
The measure would excuse youthful offenders from having to pay: certain testing and laboratory fees; a penalty for false public alarms; a monthly penalty imposed on juvenile sex offenders; and the cost of court-ordered educational or counseling programs.
The bill was sponsored by Assembly members Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), Adam Taliaferro (D-Gloucester), and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer) and Sens. Nellie Pou (D-Passaic) and Nia Gill (D-Essex). It passed the full Assembly earlier this month and the Senate in June.
Such fees disproportionately affect minority and low-income families, Reynolds-Jackson said.
They also contribute to the cycle of poverty, Mukherji said.
“How do we justify young people being further penalized with fines and fees intended to support the juvenile justice system when many aren’t even old enough to get a job?” Mukherji said. “Their burdens are often taken on by families who are already struggling to make ends meet, which is a miscarriage of justice with no public safety purpose.”
The fees also could fuel recidivism, Taliaferro said.
“Our youth often have to choose between paying off these debts and paying for necessities, which can make staying out of trouble harder due to these excessive financial burdens,” Taliaferro said.
Under the bill, any outstanding warrants juveniles face for failing to pay such fines and fees would be vacated, and any money owed would be forgiven.
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