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  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

  • Tuesday Olson knew her pregnancy was in trouble and tried to access hospital care as soon as possible. But there was a problem: she was in jail. This is her story.
  • It’s time to end the death penalty in Colorado. Family members who lost loved ones to murder speak out against an unjust and broken system.

ACLU sues on behalf of Colorado woman who was jailed 27 days because she could not pay a $55 fee

November 7, 2017

DENVER – The ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit in federal court this morning against El Paso County on behalf of Jasmine Still, a Colorado Springs resident who was held in jail for 27 days after a court granted her release, without payment of money, through a personal recognizance bond (PR bond). Despite the court’s order, El Paso County continued to hold Ms. Still, because she was unable to pay a $55 fee for El Paso County Pretrial Services.

According to the lawsuit, El Paso County has a policy of continuing to imprison people who have been granted a PR bond if they cannot pay the county-imposed fee. This policy has caused the illegal imprisonment of hundreds of pre-trial detainees, who are innocent in the eyes of the law and have only been charged with, not convicted of, a crime.

“The court determined that Ms. Still was not a flight risk or a danger to the community and that she deserved to be free while her case was pending, yet El Paso County held her in jail for nearly a month solely because she could not afford to pay a $55 fee,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “Jailing someone because of their poverty is not only cruel, it is unconstitutional.”

“We estimate that, in a one year period, El Paso County held over 300 defendants in jail for a total of more than 3000 days only because they couldn’t come up with the money to pay a $55 fee,” said ACLU of Colorado staff attorney Rebecca Wallace.  “Putting aside the illegality of the County’s practice, it makes no economic sense.  Waiving those fees would have cost the County about $16,000, but jailing those defendants who could not pay cost taxpayers more than $266,000.”

Still had never before been arrested, booked into a jail, or charged with a crime. While incarcerated for 27 days, she was separated from her newborn child, and child custody proceedings were initiated against her.  In order to fight for her children, she decided she had no choice but to plead guilty to secure her release, rather than fight her case.

“Every day I was in jail, I thought there had to have been some kind of mistake.  I didn’t think you could jail someone just because they were poor,” said Still. “I am fighting back not just for me, but for all of the other people who El Paso County has kept in jail because they couldn’t scrape together $55.”

“Ms. Still’s story underscores the unjust and needless costs of pretrial incarceration,” said Wallace.  “Pre-trial jail stays can and do cause legally innocent people to lose out on pay, lose their job, lose custody of their children, lose their housing and lose their vehicle.  With all of these pressures building on pretrial defendants, it is no wonder that many defendants plead guilty just to get out of jail.”

Earlier this year, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that the El Paso County Jail was “bursting at the seams” after the population surged to more than 1,750 inmates. 

“If El Paso County wants to decrease the number of inmates in its jails and also save money, it should start by immediately releasing those whom the court has ordered released on personal recognizance,” said Silverstein.

In addition to asking for compensation for Ms. Still and additional plaintiffs who may later be added to the suit, the ACLU seeks to end the unconstitutional policy of jailing defendants who are too poor to pay a $55 fee.

Resources:

Read the ACLU complaint: https://aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/1-Complaint.pdf

Gazette: El Paso County jail staff scrambles as inmate population keeps growing



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