Members of the CEDP gathered in the office of Delaware Governor John Carney on October 3, 2022, to witness the signing of HB 244 into law—a major success in CEDP’s effort to eliminate court-imposed fees.
February 7, 2023—Wilmington Alliance Donates to Fines and Fees Fund
Wilmington Alliance announced a $71,000 donation to the Fines and Fees Fund created by Friendship House and CEDP. This donation will increase Friendship House’s ability to provide financial assistance to justice-involved individuals to cover costs related to fines and fees such as lifting capias, new state IDs, State Driver’s
Licenses and Delaware Birth Certificates and other costs that impede individuals’ movement through the expungement or pardon process.
Since 2021, Wilmington Alliance has served as the facilitating agency for a citywide workforce-development collaborative, helping to connect neighborhoods, businesses, nonprofits, and other stakeholders in creating pathways and removing barriers to employment for nontraditional and/or justice-involved job seekers.
2021—Fines and Fees Fund established in partnership between CEDP and Friendship House
Created in 2021, this Fund assists people affected by fines and fees in Delaware by paying off fees either entirely or through partial down payments that allow individuals to establish monthly payment plans with the court. The Fund is supported by contributions from the Delaware community and is administered by Friendship House.
April 3, 2023—Implementation Date for HB 244
CEDP, Friendship House, the Delaware DMV, and the State Courts have been working together to address the practical aspects of implementing the fines and fees reforms enacted by the 2022 Delaware General Assembly (see information on HB 244 below). Implementation state-wide is set for April 3 of this year.
February 18, 2023—Second Meeting of Criminal Legal System–Imposed Debt Study Group
See January 3, 2023, entry below for information on this Study Group. Meetings are open to the public, including public comment.
February 16, 2023—Delaware Judiciary speaks out against fines and fees as funding for courts
Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz, Jr. of the Delaware Supreme Court criticized fines and fees as a source for court funding in presenting the Court system’s annual budget request to the Joint Finance Committee of the Delaware General Assembly: “As much as possible, we ought to make the judiciary a general fund judiciary instead of essentially funding judicial operations off the backs of poor people, frankly, which some of these fees and fines do.” He also testified that “portions of the judiciary’s budget currently reliant on court revenue from the general fund would both be more sustainable and would allow reforms to progress without impacting court operations.” (Delaware Public Media, February 16, 2023)
Chief Justice Seitz also endorsed legislation to give judges discretion to consider a defendant’s ability to pay before imposing fines and fees: “The state would collect more money because instead of hitting people with fines they’ll never be able to pay, if you give judges discretion to do a financial analysis of what they’ll be able to be, we won't be writing off $20 to $30 million in unpaid fees and fines in thirty years—we’ll actually be collecting a chunk of that.” (Delaware Public Media, February 16, 2023)
Justice Seitz’s comments support two key reforms advocated for by the CEDP—funding of government operations through public funding instead of fines and fees and recognition that imposing fines and fees on defendants with no or limited ability to pay results in mounting personal debt and unstable revenue for government operations.
January 3, 2023—Criminal Legal System Imposed Debt Study Group holds inaugural meeting
This Study Group is reviewing the impact of court imposed financial obligations on defendants and victims and will recommend ways to promote access, fairness, and transparency in the imposition and collection of court imposed financial obligations. Recommendations are expected in May 2023. CEDP is represented on this Study Group by Meryem Dede and Tanya Whittle. Meetings are open to the public, including public comment.
December 2022—CEDP Awarded $25,000 Planning Grant
CEDP was awarded a $25,000 grant by the Charles and Lynn Shusterman Family Philanthropies of Tulsa, Okla., to help the Campaign continue to advocate for reform of fines and fees in Delaware. The grant will be used in part to hire a part-time Campaign Manager. The Philanthropies’ goal is to build more just and inclusive societies. (See CEDP homepage for information on this job opening.)
October 3, 2022—Governor Carney signs into law HB 244 with HA 2, passed in June 2022 by the Delaware General Assembly
This bill makes the following important changes to fines and fees:
– Eliminates fines, fees, costs and assessments on children and their parents, guardians and custodians
– Prohibits suspension of driver’s license for nonpayment of a fine, fee, cost, assessment or restitution
– Prohibits charging a defendant for (a) periodic or late payments (b) cancellation of an arrest warrant issued for nonpayment and (c) payment at court-designated kiosks or an internet-based court payment systems
– Eliminates the Public Defender Fee and the Probation Supervision fees, which are paid into the General Fund
– Requires public reporting by the Judiciary and Delaware Criminal Justice Information system on amounts collected for fines, fees, costs, assessment and restitutions
– Creates the Criminal Legal System Imposed Debt Study Group to recommend further reform
HB 244 improved Delaware’s national ranking by the National Center for Access to Justice from 47th to 23rd.
This Center ranks all states and the District of Columbia on 17 dimensions to evaluate the fairness of each jurisdiction’s system of court fines and fees. While Delaware has opportunity for even greater fairness, HB 244 is an important first legislative step at meaningful reform.
December 21, 2022—CEDP recognized as outstanding progressive organization by Delaware Liberal (“Most Valuable To The Progressive Cause in Delaware”)
Along with Network Delaware and Working Families Party of Delaware, CEDP was described as a game-changing progressive organization, with particular note of its leadership by Lynne Kielhorn and Meryem Dede.
December 5, 2021—CEDP honored with “Government For the People Award”
This award was presented by the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, Delaware Press Association, the League of Women Voters of Delaware, and the League of Women Voters of New Castle County to recognize CEDP’s effectiveness is advocating for meaningful reform in Delaware’s system of court-imposed fines and fees.
August 3, 2022—Wilmington chosen as a new member of “Cities and Counties for Fine & Fee Justice” network at the national Fines and Fees Justice Center
This leadership network is “pursuing innovative local solutions to reform fines and fees.” Through the efforts of CEDP, Wilmington was selected for its efforts at rethinking its reliance on fines and fees revenue and is implementing reforms that support public safety and economic prosperity for all of their residents. Wilmington is represented in this network by Lynne Kielhorn and Ken Grant.
Use of fines and fees leading to debtors’ prisons is a problem nationwide (see The Problem). But the effort for reform is nationwide as well. Here are some examples:
– The Santa Fe City Council approved an ordinance to limit debt-based driver’s license suspensions.
– The New Mexico House passed a bill to stop imposition of uncollectible fees, i.e., fees imposed on indigent defendants unable to pay.
– The Nevada legislature decriminalized minor traffic violations.
More broadly, the National Center for Access to Justice reports that there is “some cause for optimism” because almost every reform policy represented in the Center’s primary justice benchmarks “has been adopted in at least one state, meaning that states seeking to do better need not invent new policies whole cloth. They can simply look to what other states are doing to adopt more rights-respecting policies.” Further, the Center reports that in the two years between the beginning of their research into fines and fees policies and their 2022 update, “more than a dozen states took steps to eliminate fees, end harsh punishments for failure to pay, or otherwise improve their fines and fees policies. There is tremendous momentum for reform.”
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