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Debtors prison: ACLU targets cities that jail people too poor to pay fines

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The following mini-profiles of debtors' prison examples feature ACLU of Colorado photos and text. They're followed by the organization's letter to Westminster.

jared.thornburg.jpg
Jared Thornburg.
Jared Thornburg: Jared Thornburg was recently unemployed, recovering from a serious workplace injury, and homeless when the City of Westminster threw him in jail for ten days because he could not pay a fine for driving a defective vehicle.

In March 2012, Jared pleaded to driving a defective vehicle and was ordered by the court to pay $165 in fines and costs. Jared told the court that he was homeless and penniless and could not pay the fine. He asked for a brief amount of time to try to get the money together to pay, but the court told him that he would have to pay by the end of the next day, or a warrant would be issued for his arrest. Jared was unable to come up with the money and, shortly after, the court issued a pay-or-serve warrant for his arrest.

The warrant ordered that Jared either immediately pay $245, an amount which now included new fees stemming from his inability to pay, or serve 10 days in jail. Despite knowing that Jared was homeless and unemployed, the Westminster Municipal Court sentenced him to 10 days in jail, without any hearing on the matter. Jared was arrested in May 2012 and he served the full 10 days in jail without ever being taken before a judge.

Jared is now employed at a King Soopers grocery store, where he has been promoted three times in eight months. Had Westminster taken into account his inability to pay and granted him an extension, he would by now have paid off his fine. Instead, Jared spent 10 days in jail at a cost of over $700 to the taxpayer.
linda.roberts.jpg
Linda Roberts.
Linda Roberts: Linda Roberts is a 55 year old disabled, homeless grandmother. Linda's only source of income are food stamps and a small disability check, and she often does not have enough money to pay for food.

In June 2012, Linda shoplifted $20 worth of groceries. Linda pleaded guilty to the charge and a Wheat Ridge Municipal Court Judge ordered her to pay $371 in fines and fees and to take a class at a cost of $80. Ms. Roberts explained to the court that she was unemployed, disabled and impoverished and did not have the means to pay.

When Linda did not pay, the fees and fines ballooned to $746 and a pay-or-serve warrant was issued for her arrest. The warrant ordered that Ms. Roberts either pay the full amount or serve 15 days in jail.

Linda was arrested in October 2012, and she served 15 days in Adams County Jail, at a cost of $1,700 to the taxpayers. While in jail, Linda appeared before the Westminster Municipal Court, only to be told that her only choices would be to put up the full amount of the fine or serve the 15 days. Linda did not have the money, so she was forced to "pay off" her fine through imprisonment.

ACLU Fine Letter to Westminster

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "More surveillance cameras don't make you safer, ACLU says."



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19 comments
UpIsDown
UpIsDown

There is another country that allows criminals to escape jail-time if they have enough money to bribe the state with. Mexico.

GuestWho
GuestWho topcommenter

What's the solution, set fines at a fixed percentage of a person's reported annual income?  Would that be fair?  

Robert Barnhart
Robert Barnhart

Think of all the poor being placed in jail for "driving without a licence" when in reality we don't need a licence to TRAVEL in the United States. Travel is a Constitutional right. The court's and police have been violating our rights for decades and it must stop now!

Sanaya Tanksalvala
Sanaya Tanksalvala

With all I've seen Adams Country and the cities in it doing recently, I don't think you could pay me to live there anymore...very sad.

Lauren Connable Burdick
Lauren Connable Burdick

Yes check out the 8th amendment it is clearly written that no one can go to jail for excessive fines

Brent Miller
Brent Miller

O his should get interesting, with Obama-don't-care, wanting to arrest individuals who can't pay their fine for not having Obama-don't-care. Lol

mnieto420
mnieto420

Eh, idk why this is a surprise.  Typical punish the poor for being poor. 

vJack
vJack

You can't afford to pay?  Then we'll fine you and assess you a fee so you owe more and are even more unable to pay.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Notice it's the fuzzy-math Repuglykkkan counties and cities that SPEND Taxpayer $$ to put people in jail in lieu of collecting money from those people.


No wonder 8 years of gross economic mismanagement by the Criminal Bu$h Regime led to the LARGEST FINANCIAL COLLAPSE since the Great Depression.



DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@Robert Barnhart <== teatard loonery


You can TRAVEL all you want -- take a BUS, TAXI, HORSE, PLANE or BOAT ... no license needed.



DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

... Don't have the Dime, then do the Time!


DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@Jorge Quinones  ... got guns?

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@Lauren Connable Burdick ... what's "excessive" about those fines?


fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@DonkeyHotay   Spreading more bullshit to the dumb-ass lemmings.


Donk, you are pathetic.  

GuestWho
GuestWho topcommenter

@DonkeyHotay     Just like bail, what is considered "excessive" is subjective.  A monetary amount that is considered reasonable for the average person can be considered excessive for the indigent.

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