Colorado Springs woman spent 27 days in jail because she couldn’t pay $55 fee

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A Colorado Springs woman who has a newborn child was jailed for 27 days because she couldn’t pay an unrelated pretrial court processing fee of $55 despite a judge’s order that she be released on her own recognizance, a civil lawsuit says.
In its attempt to recoup the $55 cost of pretrial services, El Paso County spent about $2,400 holding Jasmine Still, according to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Denver by American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado attorneys Rebecca Wallace and Mark Silverstein. 
Still, arrested Jan. 11 on a felony narcotics possession charge when she was caught with 0.3 of a gram of methamphetamine, is now seeking compensatory and consequential damages, and attorneys’ fees.
A judge determined that she should be released on her own recognizance because she was not a flight risk and posed no threat of harm to others, the lawsuit says.
“Every day I was in jail, I thought there had to have been some kind of mistake. I didn’t think you could jail someone just because they were poor,” Still said in a news release. “I am fighting back not just for me, but for all of the other people who El Paso County has kept in jail because they couldn’t scrape together $55.”
Still was held because El Paso County has a policy of charging crime suspects a $55 pretrial fee. That fee has kept people who should have been released on their own recognizance in jail for up to 119 days solely because of personal poverty, the lawsuit says.
“Jailing someone because of their poverty is not only cruel, it is unconstitutional,” Silverstein said in a news release.
In 2016, Colorado passed a law that closed a loophole critics contended gutted efforts to prevent the jailing of poor people who can’t pay fines for low-level offenses. The law specified that jailings could occur only after a court hearing determined the fines were not an undue hardship.
As recently as Friday, the El Paso County jail was holding six pretrial suspects released on their own recognizance who couldn’t pay the fee, the lawsuit says. The defendants should have been released after signing an agreement that promises they will return to court for future proceedings.
People throughout Colorado are released from jail immediately when a judge places them on personal recognizance. 
“However, in El Paso County, it is only those detainees who have the means to pay a county-imposed fee of $55 who have the opportunity to gain prompt release upon the court’s grant of a supervised personal recognizance bond,” the lawsuit says.
In one case, a judge had ordered the release of a suspect despite the person’s inability to pay the $55 fee, but the jail refused to release the person, the lawsuit says.
Between Aug. 21 and Oct. 20, the county held 51 personal recognizance defendants who couldn’t afford the pretrial fees an average of 10.6 days.
El Paso County is spending about $250,000 more to hold the suspects rather than granting them waivers if they are unable to pay pretrial fees, the lawsuit says.
“Pretrial jail stays can and do cause legally innocent people to lose out on pay, lose their job, lose custody of their children, lose their housing and lose their vehicle,” Wallace said in a news release. “With all of these pressures building on pretrial defendants, it is no wonder that many defendants plead guilty just to get out of jail.”
The National Institute of Corrections criticized the county for its policy of holding suspects pretrial solely for their inability to pay the fee, it says.
Still, who is a mother of three, was unable to be with her newborn child, and the kids were placed in foster care, the lawsuit says.
“She decided that, rather than wait in jail while she fought her case, she had no choice but to plead guilty so that she could get out of jail quickly and fight for custody of her children. On Feb. 6, Ms. Still pleaded guilty to felony possession and was promptly released from custody,” the lawsuit says.

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