Youth Radio Investigates the True Cost of Juvenile Justice

Youth Radio Investigates the True Cost of Juvenile Justice

May 12, 2014 | Myles Bess, Youth Radio Reporter

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Six months ago, I joined a team of journalists at Youth Radio to help investigate underreported trends in the juvenile justice system. The trends we highlight in the series Double Charged: The True Cost of Juvenile Justice include the growing use of GPS ankle monitoring for teenagers and fines and fees billed to parents for their kids’ jail time and probation—even after their children are deceased. 

Six months ago, I joined a team of journalists at Youth Radio to help investigate underreported trends in the juvenile justice system. The trends we highlight in the series Double Charged: The True Cost of Juvenile Justice include the growing use of GPS ankle monitoring for teenagers and fines and fees billed to parents for their kids’ jail time and probation—even after their children are deceased. 

My main focus on the team was looking at fines, fees, and court debt. I traveled all over Northern California, from inner cities to the far suburbs, where I interviewed people who shared tough stories. I spoke with teenagers who owed thousands of dollars. I also talked to their parents, lawyers, legal scholars, and activists.

This reporting was emotional—talking to young peoples’ parents who are financially distraught took its toll. But at times, it was also tedious. We spoke to countless lawyers and called all 58 counties in California to gather data. 

The products of our investigation include:

  • Two national broadcasts for American Public Media’s Marketplace;
  • An infographic detailing all of the costs that are billed to parents of incarcerated teens; and
  • An online report for The Atlantic.

And we are doing something a little different with our background information and extended interviews: We are letting you raid our “refrigerator” of source documents and audio.

“Youth Radio is open sourcing our primary documents and original reporting from Double Charged: The True Co$t of Juvenile Justice,” said Ellin O’Leary, Youth Radio’s president and chief content officer. “We are inviting our fellow journalists to build upon this investigation into the economics of incarcerating teens, the ethical questions arising out of GPS monitoring of adolescents, and the disproportionate impact on low-income families.”

Check out our investigation page to find audio versions of our stories and SoundCloud for extended versions of the interviews.

Myles Bess is a student at Laney College in Oakland, California. Bess has on reported on juvenile justice and education issues for Youth Radio for the past six months. He also produces video content that has been featured on National Geographic, Huffington Post, and GOOD Magazine.