ACLU: Despite law, Debtors’ prisons persist in Colorado

Photo from ACLU of Colorado report Justice Derailed, accessed at

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado issued a scathing report this week that found Colorado municipal court judges operate with almost no state oversight, leaving some to run their courtrooms like a “fiefdom” by trampling on the rights of often indigent defendants.
The ACLU’s investigation focused broadly on the lack of accountability in Colorado’s municipal court system, but held out as a case study the Alamosa Municipal Court run by Judge Daniel Powell.
Judge Powell stood out among municipal courts in the state for his “harsh tactics” and the “frequency and seriousness of constitutional abuses” in one of the state’s poorest communities, the ACLU found.
The ACLU report highlighted, for instance, the story of one defendant charged with stealing diapers who failed appear to a hearing because she had just entered a Salvation Army substance abuse program. Even though the probation officer explained the absence, the judge issued an arrest warrant for her arrest anyway.
In another case, a defendant said he couldn’t pay his fines because he had no job, was struggling with addiction and sought to enter the Salvation Army’s addiction inpatient treatment center.
The judge replied, ““I want you to understand I’m not waiting for you to go to rehab. OK? You’re going to get your obligation at this court taken care of before you go to rehab or you’re going to end up with a warrant,” according to the ACLU report.
You can read the ACLU’s entire findings, and there are many, right here: ACLU Colorado report.

About Jim McElhatton 13 Articles
Jim McElhatton is a freelance reporter and private investigator. A former longtime daily newspaper investigative journalist, he has covered criminal justice issues working at newspapers in Washington, DC, Texas and New Jersey. This is site is an unaffiliated, independent news source for issues related to indigent incarceration and debtors' prisons in the United States.

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