The ACLU accused Colorado Springs of running a ‘debtors prison.’ Today both sides met in Denver

The ACLU accused Colorado Springs of running a ‘debtors prison.’ Today both sides met in Denver
Colorado Springs officials met with the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado to discuss the group’s complaints that the city had been running a ‘debtors prison.’


In October the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado accused the city of Colorado Springs of harkening back to “debtors prisons.” The group said homeless people who were too poor to pay fines were winding up in jail.

Today, in what ACLU of Colorado spokeswoman Alejandra Garza described as a “very productive meeting,” Colorado Springs city officials met with the civil liberties group at the ACLU’s office in Denver, responding in person to the group’s complaints.

“City officials take our concerns seriously,” Garza said following the meeting.

She declined to go into detail about what the two sides discussed, but it sounds like Colorado Springs officials and the ACLU are on the same page.

“The City takes the ACLU’s concerns very seriously, and welcomed the opportunity to discuss ways to improve our Municipal Court procedures,” reads a statement from Colorado Springs City Attorney Wynetta Massey.

The City of Colorado Springs, the statement goes on, is “committed to complying with the law and will continue to work with the ACLU to that end.”

This wouldn’t be the first time the government of Colorado’s second largest city responded to a red flag from the state chapter of the ACLU. In September, the city dismissed a rash of panhandling tickets, and stopped its police officers from issuing new ones under a specific ordinance after the ACLU sent the city a letter.

The following month the state ACLU’s legal director Mark Silvertein sent the city another letter, this time laying out allegations the city was converting fines into jail sentences for people too poor to pay— an illegal practice. During a news conference at the public library in Colorado Springs, just blocks from the municipal courthouse, he discussed the contents of the new ACLU letter.

“What I’m talking about is sentencing practices that not only violate the constitutional law but really harken back to the days of debtors prisons that were abolished long ago in this country,” Silverstein said at the time. He asked the city to respond within two weeks. The city asked for more time.

Now, this meeting in Denver.

Says the ACLU’s Garza about where it all stands now: “We are working toward a resolution.”




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About the Author

Corey Hutchins

is a journalist in Colorado, and Columbia Journalism Review's Rocky Mountain correspondent for the United States Project. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyHutchins and email him at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.

1 Comment

  1. Sharon Wilson on said:

    I live on a hillside community and see a homeless individual camping on an adjacent hillside. Fire danger!! I want to suggest a (tent city) for our homeless. The state of Colorado should fund such a site so that further confrontation of panhandling would be avoided and security of our fellow citizens would not feel threatened or fear the thought of going downtown to our local city streets and library. Please consider this option as it would be an answer for all concerned.

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