Jails in multiple cities throughout Colorado regularly imprison people who were previously given a fine by a court but are simply too poor to pay it, according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union that calls for an end to this practice.The ACLU conducted investigations in municipal courts of Westminster, Wheat Ridge, and Northglenn, Colorado – all of which are located just outside Denver – and found that each of the cities regularly hand out “pay or serve” warrants that lock up those who cannot foot the bill.One of the subjects was Linda Roberts, a 55-year-old grandmother who struggles with a disability and survives on food stamps. She was arrested in June 2012, according to the ACLU, for stealing $20 worth of groceries. Upon pleading guilty, she was ordered to pay a $371 fine, which was then raised to a $746 fine when she did not pay the initial amount.Ms. Roberts was arrested in October of that year and served 15 days in the county jail. She now maintains that, during her stint behind bars, she appeared in front of a court and was forced to serve the duration of the 15 days unless she could pay the fine.Roberts’ story and others like it come after a number of recent ACLU investigations found similar circumstances at prisons in Ohio, Georgia, and Alabama. Yet the practice has been illegal since the 1830s, and a Supreme Court ruling from 1983 upheld that “a sentencing court cannot properly revoke a defendant’s probation for failure to pay a fine and make restitution…”
Southern Poverty Law Center
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