The ACLU of Colorado worked with the legislature to pass a new law in 2014 ending the practice of jailing Coloradans for being too poor to pay legal fines and fees.
Debtors’ prisons have long been forbidden under United States law and the Colorado constitution, but for decades they still continued in many Colorado communities. People who were homeless, indigent, or simply too poor to pay fines were often served with failure to pay warrants and jailed for days or weeks at taxpayer cost, for minor offenses that would normally never lead to jail time.
Those served failure to pay warrants were often denied a hearing or access to an attorney before they were sent to jail to “pay down” their fines at an amount arbitrarily set by the courts.
The Colorado legislature passed a new law in 2014 banning the practice of jailing people for being too poor to pay fines. The legislation was signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper in June 2014. It is the first of its kind across the country and will serve as a model for other states to end debtors’ prisons.