Colorado Rights Blog


  • 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 Denver for Jailing Man Who Could Not Pay $50 Fee

October 10, 2018

DENVER – The ACLU of Colorado sued Denver this morning on behalf of Mickey Howard, who was held in the Denver Jail for 5 days after a court ordered his release upon payment of a $10 bond, because he could not pay an additional $50 “bond fee.”

According to the lawsuit, Denver has a policy of continuing to imprison people who are unable to pay a $50 “bond fee,” even when they have the money to post the bond amount set by the court.

“Mr. Howard was arrested for two alleged violations of Denver ordinances. The court determined that he should be free while his case was pending upon payment of a mere $10, which Mr. Howard could pay. Yet, Denver continued to hold him in jail because he could not pay an additional $50 bond fee,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “Jailing people solely because of poverty, particularly when those individuals are pretrial and innocent in the eyes of the law, is cruel, fiscally irrational and violates the Constitution’s guarantees of Equal Protection and Due Process.”

According to the ACLU, when Mr. Howard entered the jail, he had $64, which was enough to pay the $10 bond set by the court as well as the $50 bond fee. At the time of booking, however, Denver took another $30 from Mr. Howard as a “booking fee.” That left Mr. Howard with only $34, which was not enough to buy his release.

The ACLU lawsuit identifies two Denver policies that caused Mr. Howard’s unlawful detention: (1) requiring defendants to pay a $50 bond fee, in addition to the monetary bond set by the court, in order to gain their release; and (2) taking $30 from defendants at booking even when doing so will make them unable to post bond and/or pay the bond fee.

After five days in jail, Mr. Howard was freed only because the Colorado Freedom Fund, a non-profit bail fund, paid the bond fee. It costs $70 per day for Denver to house an inmate. Over the five days Mr. Howard was in jail, Denver spent more than $350 to detain him because he could not pay a $50 fee.

All charges against Mr. Howard were eventually dismissed. However, Denver is currently billing him (and turning those bills over to collections) for more than $600 in additional fees that are related solely to the dismissed case.

“I am happy to be free, but it shouldn’t have taken the Colorado Freedom Fund to get me out,” Howard said. “I had the money to pay my bond, but the jail took it from me and wouldn’t let me out because I didn’t also have the money to pay their fee. That’s not right. I am filing this case to get justice for me and to make sure this doesn’t happen to other people.”

In August, El Paso County agreed, as part of a $190,000 settlement with ACLU of Colorado, to compensate 184 individuals who were held in the El Paso County Jail solely because they could not pay a $55 “pretrial supervision” fee.

“Colorado’s county jails are bursting at the seams, mostly with pretrial detainees who have not been convicted of a crime. Yet, we continue to see cases across the state of individuals held in jail not because they are a danger or a flight risk, but because they are too poor to pay a county fee,” said ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Rebecca Wallace. “These practices are illegal. It is past time for all counties, cities and sheriffs in Colorado to closely review their booking and bonding practices to ensure that they do not allow or facilitate incarceration based solely on poverty. Those that continue to illegally hold people in jail solely because they cannot pay fees should expect to be sued.”

The ACLU lawsuit was filed in federal district court. Howard is represented by Silverstein and Wallace of ACLU of Colorado.


Read the ACLU complaint:

Read: El Paso County Agrees to Pay $190K to Nearly 200 Individuals Who Were Jailed Because They Could Not Pay a $55 Fee

Return to News