El Paso County has agreed, as part of a $190,000 settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado, to compensate 184 people, including ACLU client Jasmine Still, who were held in the El Paso County Jail solely because they could not pay a $55 fee.
The proposed settlement, which is expected to be formally approved by county commissioners on August 14th, provides for a $60,000 payment for Still’s damages, attorneys’ fees and costs. An additional 183 people are eligible for compensation based on a rate of $125 per day of illegal incarceration, for a total of 1,043 days.
“The cruel and thoughtless policy at the heart of this lawsuit targeted the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, and most impoverished individuals in this group—those who can’t even access a mere $55 to secure their release.”
Mark Silverstein, ACLU Attorney
According to the lawsuit filed by ACLU of Colorado in November 2017, El Paso County had a policy of continuing to imprison pretrial detainees who the court had ordered released without the payment of money—through a personal recognizance bond (PR bond)—only because they were unable to pay a $55 fee to fund El Paso County Pretrial Services. Within days of the lawsuit being filed, the Chief Judge of the 4th Judicial District issued an order ending the practice.
“Many defendants caught up in the criminal justice system have only minor records and pose little or no threat to public safety, which is why the court orders their release on a PR bond,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “The cruel and thoughtless policy at the heart of this lawsuit targeted the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, and most impoverished individuals in this group—those who can’t even access a mere $55 to secure their release. County officials deserve credit not only for ending the policy, but also for agreeing to compensate nearly 200 additional individuals that the ACLU did not represent, who spent time in jail solely because they could not pay a $55 fee.”
The ACLU’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jasmine Still, who spent 26 days in jail after the court had granted her a PR bond. While incarcerated, Still was separated from her newborn child and child custody proceedings were initiated against her. In order to fight those proceedings, she decided she had no choice but to plead guilty to secure her release.
“I am grateful that this case is finally over and that I can tell my children that I was part of something bigger than just me—that I stood up with the ACLU to fight for the rights of 183 other people,” says Still. “El Paso County did something I didn’t expect—they stepped up to make this right. I hope this case will make other places think twice before they lock people up just because they can’t pay.”
All of the individuals harmed by this practice were jailed pretrial, meaning they had only been accused of a crime and were presumed innocent in the eyes of the law. Many saw their charges dropped or, even if convicted, received no jail time for their sentence.
“This lawsuit is just the tip of the iceberg,” said ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Rebecca Wallace. “Across Colorado, every day, thousands of individuals are incarcerated pretrial only because they can’t pay a money bond set by the court. In this irrational system, people with money to pay their bail go free, keep their jobs, and prepare their defense—regardless of the crime they’ve been charged with or their likelihood of fleeing prosecution. Those without money, on the other hand, languish in jail, often losing their jobs, their homes or custody of their children. Many, like Jasmine Still, feel forced to plead guilty just to get out of jail. This modern-day debtors’ prison in Colorado’s overcrowded jails is cruel and costly. It must end.”