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El Paso County commissioners to vote on settlement with ACLU over $55 jail fees

Posted at 11:01 AM, Aug 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-13 14:46:55-04

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – El Paso County commissioners will decide Tuesday whether or not to approve a $60,000 settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado over the county’s former practice of keeping people in jail who couldn’t pay a small administrative fee.

The ACLU of Colorado sued last year after a Colorado Springs woman named Jasmine Still spent 27 days in jail when she couldn’t pay a $55 administrative fee for pretrial services last year and wasn’t granted a waiver. Still had already posted a personal recognizance bond.

Still pleaded guilty in the drug case, saying she did so in order to be out of jail to try and fight for custody of her children.

The county’s chief judge ordered an end to the practice shortly after the lawsuit was filed last November, though the county had already started researching changes to the fee collection procedures and had approved changes the same month.

Under the settlement, if it is approved, the county will pay the ACLU $60,000 for damages, costs and attorney’s fees. Part of the settlement would include a process by which about 180 other people who were held because they couldn’t pay the fee could recoup that time with money.

The county says that each of those people will be able to apply for compensation of $125 per each day they were held because of the fee. The county says most people were held for five days or less.

The county commissioners have also added another $300,000 to the program’s budget for 2018 meant to help inmates in pretrial services so they can get out of jail and get back to work. The county says it hopes to double the number of inmates able to participate in the program in 2019.

The settlement is on the consent calendar for Tuesday’s meeting.

"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.

“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 sent by the ACLU.  “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.”