Charged with battery for banging into a teacher while horsing around in a hallway, he pleaded guilty with the promise that after one year of successful probation, the conviction would be reduced to a misdemeanor.
He worked 40 hours in a food bank. He met with an anger management counselor. He kept to an 8 p.m. curfew except when returning from football practice or church.
And he kept out of trouble.
But Dequan and his mother, who is struggling to raise two sons here on wisps of income, were unable to meet one final condition: payment of $200 in court and public defender fees. For that reason alone, his probation was extended for what turned out to be 14 more months, until they pulled together the money at a time when they had trouble finding quarters for the laundromat.
Dequan’s experience is hardly an isolated one. The ways that fines and fees can entrap low-income people in the adult courts have received enormous attention in the past year or two. But the systematic imposition of costs on juvenile offenders, with equally pernicious effects on the poorest of them, is far less known.
And for Dequan and his family, it got worse. Duval County, where they live, charges a dollar per day for probation supervision, so that meter kept on ticking. On a recent evening in their sparse apartment, in a rough public housing complex here, his mother, Shenna Jackson, displayed their unpaid bill from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s Cost of Care Recovery Unit: $868.
“You feel like you’re drowning and you’re trying to get some air, but people are just pouring more water into the pool,” is how Dequan, now a 16-year-old honor student and star linebacker at Robert E. Lee High School, described his despair over what, for this family, is a crushing financial burden.