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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate passes three bills to reform Delaware’s criminal justice fee system

May 21, 2024

DOVER – The Delaware Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed three measures to eliminate several fines, fees and outstanding balances imposed by the courts on top of any restitution or criminal penalties a defendant may be ordered to pay. 

“While the focus of our criminal justice system should be on rehabilitation and restoration, the fines and fees assessed on defendants overly burdens low-income Delawareans, which increases recidivism and punishes those impacted by the cycle of poverty,” said Senator Darius Brown, the Senate prime sponsorof all three bills. “This legislative package helps to correct some of the injustice within our justice system, and I am thankful for my Senate colleagues’ support in removing another barrier for justice-involved Delawareans.”  

Senate Bill 282 would repeal the $100 Senior Trust Fund Fee, the $50 Interstate Compact Fee and the Substance Abuse Rehabilitation, Treatment, Education and Prevention Fund Fee (SARTEP), which is assessed at 15% of all fines, penalties and forfeitures collected by the courts for an applicable criminal offense. 

Senate Bill 283 would repeal the $1 DELJIS Fee collected from every adult criminal or traffic defendant and delinquent juvenile. 

Senate Bill 284 would discharge the outstanding balances of anyone ordered to pay a probation supervision fee before it was repealed in 2021, including approximately $14.4 million still owed from nearly 70,000 accounts as of January 2023.  

“We have seen how court fees and fines can perpetuate a cycle of debt and punishment for justice-involved individuals and their families,” said Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, the House prime sponsor on all three bills. “The bills, like our Criminal Legal System Imposed Debt Study Group, not only acknowledge this reality but also take steps to rectify it. I thank Senator Brown for helping to lead this vital reform effort and for championing these measures that will pave the way for a fairer, more compassionate justice system.” 

Passage of all three measures was recommended by the Criminal Legal System Imposed Debt Study Group, a task force that met for nearly a year to review Delaware’s criminal justice fines and fees system. 

Co-chaired by Senator Brown and Rep. Sean Lynn, the task force determined that the financial burden placed on defendants by a number of fines and fees previously enacted by the Delaware General Assembly outweighs the benefit of funding specific services outside of the general fund budgeting process. Representatives from the Delaware Court System had an active role in the development of the study group’s final report and legislative package.  

“Criminal fees often impose an unnecessary burden on people who cannot afford to pay. The fees that were eliminated today were among the highest priority recommendations of the Study Group in large part because these fees yielded little, often unstable revenue and created unnecessary barriers for justice-involved individuals seeking to become successful and productive Delaware citizens,” said Gayle P. Lafferty, State Court Administrator. “We thank Senator Brown, Rep. Lynn, and Rep. Dorsey Walker for their leadership.”  

The legislative package passed by the Senate on Tuesday also builds off of Senator Brown’s restorative justice work, including Adult Expungement Reform Act of 2019 and the Clean Slate Act of 2021, which is helping to provide second chances to thousands of Delawareans. 

For example, the SARTEP Fee that helps to fund substance abuse rehabilitation treatment, education, and prevention services provides an unreliable funding stream for those resources. In FY 2022, the fee collected $31,439, while in FY 2023, the fee only collected $19,803. 

More than a dozen members of the Delaware General Assembly signed on to co-sponsor the bills in the legislative package.  

“As a career law enforcement officer, I recognize the important role our justice system plays in holding individuals accountable for their actions and ensuring they repay their debts to society. However, we have to do our best to create a clear path for rehabilitation,” said Rep. Frank Cooke

“Excessive court fees and fines have been a major barrier for people trying to reintegrate and rebuild their lives, and their removal is an important step toward a more just and equitable system that truly supports rehabilitation.” 

SB 282, SB 283 and SB 284 now head to the House for final consideration.