LGBTQ youth are disproportionately likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system due to their increased risk of rejection from their own families, harassment and discrimination in school and elsewhere, and resulting challenges they face, including poorer mental health and increased risk of homelessness. Because of this, GLAD has a particular interest in juvenile justice reform and strongly supports L.D. 1304 – An Act to Ease Financial Burdens for Juveniles Involved in the Justice System.

No one wants a juvenile justice system predicated on anything but fairness. For the system to work, it must be fair to offenders and victims of crimes, as well as to society as a whole. However, one critical way that the Maine Juvenile Code (MJC) falls short of this promise is the disproportionate impact that restitution orders have on poor youth.

Poverty is not a crime and it should not be treated as one. Yet the current MJC permits a judge to factor a child’s ability or agreement to pay restitution into the decision whether to incarcerate them, effectively ensuring that more poor children will end up behind bars. When a child is ordered to pay restitution and is unable to do so, the MJC permits the juvenile court to hold the child in contempt and incarcerate them as a result. No one—least of all a child—should be locked up over their inability to pay.

L.D. 1304 addresses the failures of the Maine Juvenile Code by:

  1. Removing from consideration a child’s ability or agreement to make restitution from the decision to commit them to an institution;
  2.  Capping the amount of restitution a child can be ordered to pay at $800 (although GLAD would support a lower cap) and requiring the court to hold a hearing to determine their financial capacity, i.e. ability to pay; and
  3.  Removing incarceration from the options available to the ability of a court to incarcerate a child over their inability to pay.

These changes will increase the fairness of the Maine Juvenile Code and bring it more in line with its rehabilitative purpose.

By capping restitution orders and linking them to ability to pay, L.D. 1304 stands for the principle that no child should be locked up because of their inability to pay restitution. GLAD agrees and urges that the Committee on Judiciary to advance this bill and to give consideration the following amendments: (1) lowering the cap; and (2) limiting restitution to payments for individuals rather than to state or local governments.

Mary Bonauto’s entire testimony can be found here.