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.

Prepared Testimony of ACLU Public Policy Director Denise Maes on HB 1061 – Eliminate Prison for Inability to Pay Fines

Bill to be considered February 25 by the House Judiciary Committee at 1:30 pm MT

“Debtors’ prison sounds like an archaic term – some long abandoned concept from the pages of a Charles Dickens novel. Unfortunately, their use is alive and well in Colorado and you don’t have to travel very far beyond the Capitol to see it.

“The U.S. Constitution and the Colorado Constitution prohibit debtors’ prisons. The law requires that, before jailing anyone for unpaid fines, courts must determine whether an individual is too poor to pay. Jailing a person who is unable to pay violates the law, and yet municipal courts across the State of Colorado continue this draconian practice.

“The ACLU conducted a 2-year investigation and discovered that many Coloradans are being jailed for their failure to pay outstanding court fines and fees, and there is no inquiry by the Court into whether the individual has the ability to pay.

“Incarceration under these circumstances is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution. The United States Supreme Court has consistently recognized that to deprive an individual of freedom because, through no fault of their own, they cannot pay is contrary to fundamental fairness that is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

“Make no mistake: this practice exists. And persists. Most of Colorado’s largest cities issue pay or serve warrants. In our investigation, we discovered that individuals clearly lacking the ability to pay were jailed for very minor offenses: a dog off-leash, minor traffic infractions, and open container violations.

“Incarcerating the poor creates a two-tiered system of justice. The poorest are punished more harshly and, due to escalating fines and fees that attach because of late payments or non-payments, poor people pay more in fines.

“Incarcerating the poor is fiscally unwise. The taxpayer pays multiple times. First, while incarcerated, there is a cost for the County per day, per bed. Second, the Court forfeits its ability to collect the fines and third, while incarcerated, the defendant risks losing their job and may become dependent on public assistance. This is a net fiscal loss to the taxpayers.

“Our judicial system, which prides itself on equal justice for all, cannot maintain a system whereby some people pay their fines and the poor go to jail. Without question, accountability is an important aspect of our judicial system. But so is fairness.

“The ACLU urges a yes vote on HB 1061.”

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