Campaign to End Debtors' Prisons

The Campaign to End Debtors Prisons seeks to eliminate poverty as an element of criminal punishment. We’re a coalition of community members pushing for reform of the court fines & fees system. Our goals are twofold: 1) Eliminate fees in the justice system. 2) Ensure that fines are fairly imposed and enforced.

In 2018 alone, there were over 205,000 criminal or traffic cases filed in Delaware. Over 95% of those filings were for misdemeanor crimes or violations, petty offenses. For people with money, these small mistakes result in a slap on the wrist. However, for people without money, even the most minor of violations turns into a life sentence of debt and poverty due to fines and fees imposed by Delaware’s courts. 

Anytime a person is found guilty of a criminal or traffic offense, they are imposed a series of fees, which fund various administrative costs and state programs; and fines, which are purely intended as punishment. Currently, Delaware Courts impose fines and fees without any consideration of someone’s ability to pay. This unfairly punishes people who cannot pay hundreds of dollars in court debt. When people cannot pay their court costs, they face harsh punishments: suspended driver's licenses, arrest warrants, and even incarceration. In the first 6 months of 2018, Delaware sentenced 129 people to jail only because they could not pay court costs. 



Change we seek


Poverty should not be a crime. It's time for this system to change. We demand Delaware stop trapping poor communities in cycles of debt and criminalization. To do so, we specifically demand five key changes:

  • Make courts analyze a person’s ability to pay before issuing fines and fees
  • Cease suspending drivers’ licenses for inability to pay fines and fees
  • Ban courts from issuing late fees for unpaid fines and fees
  • Make municipalities, law enforcement agencies, and the courts track and disclose how much of their budgets come from fines and fees
  • Create a consolidated system by which people can see how much they owe in court costs and easily make payments.

Take Action

Click here to send a letter to your legislator in support!

We meet the first Wednesday of every month via Zoom. Contact Campaign Co-Coordinators Meryem Dede or Lynne Kielhorn to join our mailing list, get involved, or find out more.