Home News Center Advocates for Children and Youth Helps Eliminate Fines and Fees for Justice-Involved Youth in Maryland

Advocates for Children and Youth Helps Eliminate Fines and Fees for Justice-Involved Youth in Maryland

September 29, 2020
NJJN



Q&A w/ Ashley DeVaughn, Youth Justice Policy Director, Advocates for Children and Youth (ACY)

Can you tell me about House Bill 36 and what it does?
 

HB36 eliminates fines, fees, and costs from Maryland's youth justice system. Research shows that imposing fees on youth and their parents puts emotional and financial strain on families and undermines the youth justice system's rehabilitative goals. Before the passage of HB36, young people and their families faced serious consequences when they could not afford to pay youth justice costs. Many times young people ended up going deeper into the justice system for failure to pay. Families have gone into debt or have been unable to pay for rent or food due to having to pay fines and fees to the justice system. 

What was the background to the bill - have you been working on this issue for a while?  

2020 was the second year in which the Fines, Fees and Costs bill was put before the Maryland legislature, and ACY supported this legislation in 2019 also. Thankfully, the Arnold Foundation hosted a pivotal convening in October 2019, where members of the Maryland Youth Justice Coalition – including ACY, the Office of the Public Defender, the ACLU and other state advocates – received helpful resources to push HB36 during the 2020 session successfully.   

What were the advocacy strategies used to get the bill passed? What role did ACY play? 

HB36 passed because of how Maryland advocates partner. ACY manages the Maryland Youth Justice Coalition, which led the charge together with its members and other partners. Youth-led organizations like Community Law in Action (CLIA)UMBC Choice Program and Algebra Project were at the forefront of this strategy and were lifted up throughout the process. At the beginning of our 2020 session, this legislation's outcome looked grim, and some legislators had little interest in exploring this option. However, our coordination and presentation of data and personal stories shifted their outlook. We were so excited when HB36 passed and was not vetoed in the Governor's unprecedented, sweeping decisions this spring. HB36 truly passed because of how Maryland advocates work together.  

Were young people involved in the advocacy? If so, how?  

Yes! Throughout the advocacy process, we partnered with CLIA, UMBC Choice Program, and Algebra Project – all of which are youth-serving organizations. Young people were involved at every level of advocacy in this effort and were incredibly impactful on Youth Advocacy Day. 

There was a lot of pushback during the first half of the legislative session, and it felt as if legislators would not respond to our call to action. In response, we held a Youth Advocacy Day in which we worked with the young people at our youth-serving partners, CLIA, UMBC Choice, and Algebra Project. Adult advocates were available to answer questions about the legislation or political process; however, about 50 of Maryland's most impassioned youth mobilized to flood committee members' email and voicemail inboxes with support for HB36. They expressed how the bill could directly impact themselves, their loved ones, and the communities and neighborhoods throughout the state. Adult advocates escorted these young activists to personal meetings with legislators, where they shared moving stories and connected more personally with their representatives. Our young people represented themselves beautifully, and we were honored to be a part of that experience. 

Whats on ACYs policy priorities for next years legislative session? 

ACY continues to manage the Maryland Youth Justice Coalition, which will be putting forth a robust list of policy priorities. These include instating a jurisdictional floor for youth courts, reimagining diversion to keep more young people out of the system, addressing the practice of automatically charging young people as adults, moving towards a community-based model of rehabilitation whenever possible, especially protecting girls who must enter the justice system, and keeping our young people safe from policing in schools, among a few others. ACY is also a unique organization in Maryland in that it addresses a spectrum of issues that touch our state’s young people and families. For example, we support legislation meant to bring about educational equity like the Kirwan package and changes in funding structures for the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as well as increased protections for youth who hold traditionally marginalized identities. 

Anything else you'd like people to know?

This year’s COVID-19 pandemic forced a large-scale and speedy youth decarceration effort in Maryland to ensure our young people's safety and health. However, even with these efforts, ACY recognizes our systems' continued deficiencies, especially during this unprecedented time. We must stay motivated to fight the many things that threaten equity, health, and safety for our young people, families, and communities. Youth incarceration must become the final recourse and reserved only for those who pose such a severe threat that no other solution could protect public safety 

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