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How Debt-Based License Suspensions Criminalize Poverty

There’s a huge problem with our justice system that you’ve probably never heard about.

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Millions of Americans unable to pay their court fines and fees have had their driver’s licenses suspended as a result. 

Why is that a problem? The vast majority of Americans rely on a car to get themselves to work — so losing a license over an unpaid fine often forces workers to choose between losing their job or driving on a suspended license. This punishment for poverty leads to endless cycles of debt that trap working class people in the criminal justice system. 

“If you get out of jail and you don’t have what it is that you need to pay, it might make someone more likely to resort back to the life of crime that led them into jail in the first place,” Davon Marque Hall, a Delaware resident said. 

But Delaware lawmakers are working to end this practice. In Delaware, the state legislature is considering House Bill 244. If passed, the bill will prevent debt-based license suspensions in the state and help build momentum to end this discriminatory practice nationwide. 

A national movement to end license suspensions over a failure to pay debt is currently underway. U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Roger Wicker (R- MS) introduced legislation that would incentivize states to stop debt-based license suspensions. Delaware’s other senator, Tom Carper, has not yet supported the bill.

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