El Paso County passes $190K settlement to compensate citizens held in jail for not paying small fees https://t.co/LbThKqdqH6— ACLU of Colorado (@ACLUofColorado) August 14, 2018
A settlement has been reached between the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and El Paso County, Colorado, over an improper jail policy that kept several individuals behind bars over failing to pay a small fee unrelated to their bail.
At least 184 individuals were forced to stay in the county jail because they could not afford to pay an administrative fee of $55 for “pretrial services.” While most were imprisoned for about five days on average, one mother spent 27 days in the jail because of her inability to pay.
Jasmine Still, 26-years-old, alleged she was forced to plead guilty to a drug crime just so she could be released early to ensure she could keep custody of her children. She had already posted bond for release but couldn’t pay off the $55 fee from the county. So, she remained in jail for nearly a month.
A settlement between Still and El Paso County was reached on Tuesday. The ACLU of Colorado represented Still, but the settlement was due in large part, the organization conceded, because the county took it upon itself to do the right thing — including offering an opportunity for other inmates besides Still to get compensated.
“County officials deserve credit not only for ending the policy, but also for agreeing to compensate nearly 200 additional individuals that the ACLU did not represent, who spent time in jail solely because they could not pay a $55 fee,” ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said in a statement.
Still was awarded $60,000 for damages, attorney’s fees, and other costs as a result of the lawsuit. The 183 others who were also unfairly jailed can also apply for just compensation, getting $125 for each day they spent behind bars. In total, the settlement will award nearly $190,000 to people who were jailed in an improper way, according to the ACLU of Colorado.
Still expressed pride over being part of such an important legal case.
“I am grateful that this case is finally over and that I can tell my children that I was part of something bigger than just me — that I stood up with the ACLU to fight for the rights of 183 other people,” Still said in a statement after the settlement was announced. “El Paso County did something I didn’t expect — they stepped up to make this right. I hope this case will make other places think twice before they lock people up just because they can’t pay.”
It was good of El Paso County to step up and do the right thing — that doesn’t always happen. The policy they implemented was wrong, and in some cases forced people who couldn’t pay a fee, who wanted to contest the charges brought against them, to admit guilt just so they could get out of jail and take care of their families.
Such policies put an undue burden on individuals, especially those who are of limited means and income. With the change in policy, a fairer justice system can administer the law in a practical and equitable way.
Banner/thumbnail image credit: Joshua Lott/Reuters