White text in a red thought bubble reads: "Court Costs Are Holding Me Back" - Debt Free Youth Justcie WA

Debt Free Youth Justice

TeamChild has been working for over a decade with individual clients, and with systems as a whole, to eliminate the harms the juvenile legal system creates for young people, their families, and communities.  Much of this work has focused on post-conviction relief, which means helping a young person who has been through the legal system reconnect to a productive, inclusive, and supportive environment after that contact with court and incarceration.  Some of our systems work has focused on creating opportunities for youth to seal their juvenile record and seek relief from what are often lifetime burdens of having juvenile legal system contact.

Free from Stigma

When our efforts and our vision are mirrored by the Washington State Supreme Court, we celebrate.  This month, a new supreme court decision, in the case of State v Garza, provides helpful clarity about the court’s discretion to vacate a juvenile record when the youth seeks record sealing.  Vacating as an option along with record sealing creates more pathways for young people as they move towards adulthood.  Courts do have discretion to vacate and seal when the young person demonstrates sufficient rehabilitation and reintegration into society.  TeamChild submitted a joint amici curiae brief to the court in support of Garza in this case, recognizing how important vacating can be for young people to move into their adult life without the ongoing stigma and roadblocks juvenile legal consequences can create.

Free from Financial Instability

TeamChild is also seeking to advance more pathways for young people who have sufficiently rehabilitated and are trying to reintegrate into society after juvenile legal consequences.  Washington state has made positive advancements in reforming the way youth are financially impacted by the juvenile legal system.  Changes made by the YEAR Act (SB 5564 in 2015) allowed for new opportunities for youth to repay debts as much as they were able, but also seek relief when their efforts demonstrated that they had done all they were capable of doing to repay for their harm. This change created pathways for many young people to demonstrate accountability without the lifetime stigma of a juvenile legal record or a lifetime of creditors at their door.

Free from Harm

Our policy work seeks to advance these accomplishments and create even better outcomes for youth and for those harmed in the juvenile legal system.  We recognize that many young people are often unable to pay anything at the time of their legal consequences.  And we have observed that for many youth, they never obtain the earning power or financial stability to ever pay back the debts created by their harmful behavior. Those who have been harmed are never made whole and never recover financially from either the individual or from the community at large. What we observe are two individuals, the youth and the victim, whose lives are permanently burdened financially, and those burdens can impact their futures in significant ways.

We are hoping that in this session and in the years to come we can advance a different way of responding to the needs of those who are harmed by youthful behavior.  We want to see a juvenile legal system that has the resources to truly make someone whole who was harmed by crime.  We also want a system that holds young people accountable for their behavior, but allows them to grow and change and ultimately be able to leave their youthful offenses in their past.  This includes relieving them of long-term financial debts they will never fulfill.

What you can do:

Please continue to follow our efforts as legislative bills and other advocacy are advanced to make a truly restorative system for young people who make mistakes in our community.

If you know young people who would like to give input on policies that reduce the debt of youth involved in the juvenile legal system, share this paid opportunity for a community conversation hosted by the Debt Free Youth Justice Washington Coalition on November 19th in Seattle.

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