Media Contact

Morgan Kelly
Communications Director

March 10, 2022

Blood From A Turnip: Panel Unpacks the Practice of Fines and Fees in Delaware

WILMINGTON — Delaware has the highest per capita misdemeanor arrest rate in the country, resulting in an excess of fines and fees that many people are left unable to pay, and worse: unable to escape. A panel event, hosted by the ACLU of Delaware and the Delaware Campaign to End Debtors’ Prisons, explored this practice in detail with a webinar last night.

Mike Brickner, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware (ACLU-DE), and Meryem Dede, co-president of Network Delaware’s Campaign to End Debtors’ Prisons (CEDP), came together for this virtual event to discuss how we got to the state of fines and fees we see in Delaware today, and where we can go from here.

“Imposing fines and fees on those who are unable to pay has created a de facto debtors' prison in Delaware,” said Dede. “These practices harm our communities and trap residents in a destructive cycle of poverty — and the sole purpose of fines and fees isn’t to be a deterrent for crime, it’s to fund our government.”

In our current system, a simple misdemeanor charge can result in hundreds of dollars of court-imposed fines and fees, which is an overwhelming financial burden for people who are unable to pay. If payments are missed, the fees and penalties continue to build, mounting until they turn into consequences like driver’s license suspension, or even time in prison. This creates a vicious cycle of poverty, which is a key contributor to increased crime in Delaware’s communities.

Fortunately, the event noted, there are easy solutions to mitigate this problem. Delaware has the power to:

  • End the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay fines and fees;
  • Eliminate all fines and fees for children; 
  • Consider ability to pay when assessing and enforcing fines and fees; and 
  • Require municipalities, law enforcement agencies, and courts to track and disclose how much of their revenue comes from fines and fees.

Brickner notes that fines and fees aren’t just immoral, they’re unconstitutional. “Imprisoning someone because they cannot afford to pay court-imposed fines or fees violates the Fourteenth Amendment promises of due process and equal protection under the law. Modern-day debtors’ prisons are illegal.”

This event was sponsored by ACLU-DE’s Amicus Society, a membership-based group that brings together attorneys focused on protecting and expanding civil liberties in Delaware. CLE credit was offered to attorneys in attendance (free to Amicus Society members).

Attorneys who joined this event were given important background on this issue, presented with paths forward, and encouraged to use their power to fight against unjust fines and fees that their clients may face.

More information on the Delaware Campaign to End Debtors’ Prison can be found here:

More information on the Amicus Society can be found here: