Criminal Justice Debt
Many states place the financial burden of trial, probation, and even incarceration onto the offender the incarcerated individual, or in the case of minors, onto their family. These costs can push families into debt and force reincarceration if a family is unable to pay. For minors who are convicted, and may never have worked or had savings, this stress is even more pronounced. The Ella Baker Center study found that the costs of conviction imposed on people incarcerated in the adult justice system average $13,607, a price that half of the respondents could not afford. 20 percent of respondents took out loans to pay these fees. Those who cannot afford the fees face reincarceration and may be ineligible for government programs from food stamps to public housing. Additional costs associated with incarceration compound this initial amount. These may go toward child support payments, steep fees to maintain contact with family members, or medical costs.
Discouraging Family Involvement
CFYJ focus groups found that families and justice system practitioners agree that families lack critical information about the nature of their children’s trial, including an understanding of adult-system jurisdiction, legal rights, and the trial process. The rights of parents to be part of decision making or information gathering are severely curtailed when children are charged as adults. Parents aren’t part of police interrogations, plea bargaining agreements or housing placement discussions when their children are in the adult system. This information gap prevents families from ensuring the system addresses the needs of their children and themselves. Moreover, throughout trial, incarceration, and reentry, families often lack economic stability and social support to meet the needs of their children. When families are informed and offered crucial resources, however, they report a more positive experience with the justice system.
"The thing that baffled us was the lack of communication. At no point did anyone in authority tell us what was happening with our child. We were uninformed and didn’t know the questions to ask and we didn’t know our rights; worse, we were meant to feel like we didn’t have any. Our child was transferred from one facility to another and no one ever told us where they were taking him."
Help for Family Hindered upon Reentry
In 12 states, those convicted of drug offenses receive a lifetime ban on welfare and food stamp benefits, no matter their disposition post-incarceration. In another 25 states, there are at least partial bans of the same capacity. Criminal convictions also hinder eligibility for housing. 79 percent of the formerly incarcerated reported a lack of access to housing because of their criminal record, according to the Ella Baker Center Report, and one in ten families reported experiencing eviction from public housing when family members come home from prison.