Delaware County makes historic change to bail retention fees

Delaware County is lowering its bail retention fees — which at 40%, is the highest in Pennsylvania.

The Delaware County courthouse in Media.

The Delaware County courthouse in Media, Pa. is home to the Delaware County Council. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The Delaware County Court of Common Pleas is significantly reducing the bail retention fee for defendants.

At 40%, those fees are among the highest in Pennsylvania. These hidden costs can place a burden on impoverished people in the criminal justice system.

The bail retention fee is the portion of an individual’s posted bail that is not returned to the defendant at the end of their case. For example, an accused person who posted $1,000 bail would need to pay $400 in bail retention fees under the existing rules.

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These fees must be paid regardless of whether someone is proven innocent or their charges are dropped.

President Judge Linda A. Cartisano issued an administrative order this week where defendants will now be charged a flat fee of $25 plus 3% of the first $1,000 of bail and 2% of any amount above that threshold. This means that on a $1,000 bail,  a defendant would pay $55 instead of $400  in retention fees. The new rule takes effect Aug. 13.

In an announcement released on Friday afternoon, Delaware County officials applauded the measure as a sign of collaboration across all levels of county government.

“This rule change will have a real and practical benefit for many in Delaware County who are involved in the criminal justice system,” Councilmember Kevin Madden said in a written statement. “A disproportionate number of people in the criminal justice system are low-income. We should not be incarcerating based on who can or cannot afford to walk away from 40% of their posted bail.”

Delaware County Council unanimously approved a recommendation to adopt the new rule and the Delaware County Criminal Justice Advisory Board unanimously approved it.

“Bail is not supposed to be a punishment or a tax,” Delaware County Public Defender’s Office First Assistant Lee Awbrey said in the press release. “A grandmother posting $1,000 to keep her grandchild out of jail before trial should not get only $600 back when the case is over. This is an example of good government at work.”

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Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said the change in bail fees might not make headlines but called it “a superb example of our elected officials working together to solve a problem.”

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