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.