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Report: Juvenile Justice Restitution Laws Need Reboot

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Wednesday, July 27, 2022   

States like North Dakota need to re-imagine their restitution laws for juvenile offenders, according to a new report, which showed the payments often leave young people in debt and make it harder to turn their lives around.

In its findings, the Juvenile Law Center said as a young person goes through the criminal justice system, they often encounter a range of fees but usually do not have the money to pay them. Some are also required to pay restitution to victims.

Nadia Mozaffar, senior attorney at the Center, said policies vary by state, but overall, the approach is lacking.

"Across the country, restitution is really a broken system that isn't working for young people," Mozaffar asserted. "That actually isn't resulting in victims being appropriately compensated."

North Dakota is not among the states with mandatory restitution. Judges have discretion in ordering a juvenile to repay the victim, but it is on the list of states specifically granting crime victims the right to restitution from children or youth. And unless the offender's parent is part of the order, North Dakota does not place a cap on payment amounts.

The report encouraged states to look for solutions that still bring a sense of closure to victims, without setting up barriers for young offenders. Mozaffar believes it can be accomplished.

"Whether it's through a restorative justice program or some sort of other alternatives," Mozaffar urged. "To ensure that young people are being held accountable, and they are getting support and resources that they need in order to kind of move on from this."

The report also suggested expanded victim compensation funds without financial obligations for youth.

Last year, North Dakota adopted a juvenile justice overhaul for the first time in a half-century. One provision addressed the issue of court costs. It ensures all youth are provided a right to counsel by presuming they are indigent, rather than basing the decision on their parents' ability to pay.


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