Colorado Rights Blog


  • Cedric Watkins is a father, uncle, entrepreneur-in-training, and a vital community pillar for many others. While behind bars, he has tirelessly devoted himself to serving his peers and his community. He developed gang disaffiliation programs for other incarcerated individuals and is currently involved with Defy Ventures. He sends letters and calls his daughter as much as he can.

    Cedric is currently in prison at Sterling Correctional Facility. He was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping, theft and sentenced to 80 years; no one was seriously injured or killed. For comparison, a person convicted of second-degree murder in Colorado faces a maximum sentence of 48 years. Cedric has already served 20 years and has fully rehabilitated during that time.

    It’s time to bring Cedric home: Redemption is real. Clemency is compassion.

  • On November 21, 2016, 13 Aurora police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at Alberto Torres’s home. As happens all too often, Aurora police officers escalated this minor issue into a brutal affair. They beat Mr. Torres solely because he delayed exiting his garage to ask his wife to interpret for him. With that beating, the lives of Mr. Torres and every member of his family were changed and he has yet to recover. ACLU of Colorado fought to obtain justice for Mr. Torres, and Aurora has now paid him $285,000. But money is not justice, and the brutality of the Aurora Police Department against people of color has continued unabated.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Imagine, if instead of 13 officers being dispatched to Mr. Torres’s home for a noise complaint, the City of Aurora sent a civilian-led response team to check on his welfare and ask that he and his friends lower their sound, resulting in a non-violent solution to a minor issue?

    ACLU Settles Case With Aurora After Police Brutalize and Unlawfully Arrest Alberto Torres

  • Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment that together, we can create a more perfect union. We won’t rest until we fulfill the promise of equal rights for ALL people in the United States.

    Join us in our fight to fulfill this promise and move forward with hope by donating to the ACLU of Colorado. Your donation supports the ACLU’s strengths that make our work effective and collaborative.

    Donate now at

  • 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. 

Colorado Springs Sentences Hundreds of Impoverished People to Debtors’ Prison in Violation of U.S Constitution and State Law


DENVER – The Colorado Springs Municipal Court is routinely violating the United States Constitution and state law by jailing hundreds of people because they are too poor to pay court-ordered fines and fees, according to an ACLU letter sent to the City Attorney and the Municipal Court this morning.

An ACLU investigation uncovered more than 800 times since January 2014 where the Court imposed a fine for a violation of a municipal ordinance and then converted the fine into what court documents label a “pay or serve” sentence.  A “pay or serve” sentence orders a defendant to either pay the amount due or serve time in jail at a rate of $50 a day.  These sentences resulted in hundreds of impoverished people spending days, weeks, and even months in jail in direct violation of 40 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent, as well as a 2014 state law banning debtors’ prison practices.

“As the Supreme Court clearly explained more than forty years ago, the Constitution prohibits imposing a fine as a sentence and then converting it into a jail term solely because the defendant has no money and cannot pay,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director.  “Yet, in hundreds of cases since January 2014, the Colorado Springs Municipal Court has done just that by sentencing poor people to jail to pay off their fines at a rate of $50 a day.”

In 75% of the “pay or serve” sentences, defendants were jailed for non-jailable offenses – violations that the Colorado Springs Municipal Code identifies as punishable by only a fine and never by jail. For example, solicitation near streets or highways and violations of park curfew are non-jailable offenses punishable by, at most, a $500 fine. Yet, since January 2014, the Colorado Springs Municipal Court has imposed over 200 “pay or serve” sentences for violation of the solicitation ordinance, and over 65 “pay or serve” sentences for park hours violations.

“For penniless defendants, pay or serve is not a choice; it is a sentence to jail,” Silverstein said.  “When the City’s ordinance provides that a fine is the appropriate penalty, the Constitution forbids jailing a person solely because he is too poor to pay.  Debtors’ prisons were outlawed in this country long ago, but they are alive and well in Colorado Springs.”

In some cases, the Court imposed multiple consecutive jail sentences on defendants who had more than one non-jailable citation.  In one case highlighted by the ACLU, a 45-year-old homeless man was imprisoned for more than 90 days for panhandling, an offense for which the maximum punishment is a $500 fine, not jail.  The ACLU noted that each of this man’s multiple citations shows that he was merely displaying a sign inviting donations, conduct that does not violate the panhandling ordinance.  Nevertheless, the man served 26 consecutive “pay or serve” sentences, ranging from 1 to 10 days, in jail at a total cost to the taxpayer of more than $5,000.

“Incarcerating the poor for their inability to pay creates a two-tiered system of justice in which the poorest defendants are punished more harshly than the ones with means. Defendants who can write a check move on with their lives. Those unable to pay are imprisoned,” said ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Rebecca T. Wallace.  “In a system committed to equal justice for all, accountability cannot mean that people of means pay fines, while the poor go to jail.

In 2014, in response to an earlier ACLU investigation, the Colorado legislature overwhelmingly passed HB 14-1061, which mandates specific due process protections to prevent courts from jailing individuals who cannot pay court fines and fees.  The ACLU’s letter today asserts that Colorado Springs is violating the Colorado statute as well as the Constitution.

The ACLU of Colorado is calling on Colorado Springs to immediately stop jailing people because they are too poor to pay their fines or court fees, and to provide compensation to individuals who were jailed because of their poverty.


Read the ACLU of Colorado letter:

See also: Colorado Springs Orders Police to Stop Illegal Enforcement of Panhandling Ordinance After ACLU Steps In

Visit the ACLU of Colorado Criminalization of Homelessness Campaign Page

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