Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--J New Orleans Youth Study Center ORG XMIT: BAT1411281632309496

Concluding that they do more harm than good, Orleans Parish Juvenile Court has abolished court fees for juvenile delinquents.

In a recent order, all fees were eliminated for defendants convicted in the court.

The order makes New Orleans the first city in the South to eliminate court fees for younger defendants, according to one advocacy group.

With the stroke of a pen, Judge Candice Bates-Anderson added the court to the ranks of a larger movement to cut back on court costs for defendants, which has also led to successful lawsuits against Orleans Parish Criminal District Court and Magistrate Court.

There was no such lawsuit against Juvenile Court, which generated only a tiny portion of its income from fines and fees last year. Bates-Anderson said doing away with fees was simply the right thing to do.

“We’re trying to show that we’re working together. We all want the same outcome: to change the child’s life,” she said.

Advocates say court fines and fees place another burden on mostly low-income, disproportionately minority families that are already struggling to provide for their children. They also point to academic research finding that imposing court fees increases the odds that a defendant will be accused of more crimes in the future.

The impact on the court’s bottom line will be negligible. Out of $4.1 million in revenue last year, the court took in only $1,954 from delinquents, or more often their parents, a court official said.

That slim portion of the court’s overall revenue presents a striking contrast to the city’s adult court, where fines and fees generated more than half of Criminal District Court ’s $4.5 million general fund revenue in 2017. Its judges have proved far more resistant to slashing court fees.

Juvenile Court judges already had the power to waive discretionary court costs before last month's action. However, in some cases judges were imposing fees of $205 at the end of a case.

Those fees may have cost more money to try to collect than they ultimately generated, Bates-Anderson said.

The Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice, which separately imposes fees of its own, collected only 6 percent of the $2.1 million assessed against families with youths in the agency's care between January 2015 and April 2017, according to a report from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law's Policy Advocacy Clinic.

The Juvenile Court judges have stopped imposing physical and mental examination fees, care and treatment fees, teen or youth court program fees, appointed counsel fees and medical treatment fees, according to the July 19 order. The court has also stopped collecting probation fees.

Bates-Anderson said judges have already seen more positive attitudes from parents in their courtrooms.

“That takes an additional stressor off of the family, and we are seeing it immediately — the appreciation of the parents when they’re told that the fees are zero,” Bates-Anderson said.

She said the court’s decision has drawn interest from other parishes.

In a press release, Aaron Clark-Rizzio, the executive director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, said he hopes judges in other parishes will also end fees for juvenile defendants.

“We are grateful to the court for taking this important step in New Orleans, but we see court fees hurting vulnerable kids up and down the state. We hope other juvenile courts will follow the example of Orleans Parish to support youth and their families,” he said.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.