ACLU files lawsuit against Denver over jail fees

DENVER -- A federal lawsuit has been filed against Denver for what’s being described as illegal jail bond fees.

The lawsuit points to fees that, at times, are greater than the price of the actual bonds.

The situation that led to the suit started with a man accused of breaking a city ordinance. He was ordered to pay a $10 bond to secure his release followed by $50 bond fee.

“You’re essentially paying a fee for the privilege of posting a bond,” said former Denver arrestee and current social justice activist Elisabeth Epps.

A bond payment fee -- depending on the county -- can range from $10 to $50 throughout the Denver metro area.

That fee doesn’t include the cost of a booking fee that amounts to $30 in Denver. It’s money that, oftentimes, arrestees can’t afford to pay.

Without payment, inmates stay in jail. That typically costs taxpayers more money than the fees would add to government coffers.

“It looks like it would cost more than that just to feed them for the one day,” said bail bondswoman Christina Martin.

Martin, who works for Red’s Anytime, says the fees don’t make sense -- especially with jail overcrowding issues across the country.

The Denver Sheriff’s Department says it follows the city ordinance for bonds and fees. The department wouldn’t comment on the ACLU lawsuit.

The Denver fees end up in the city’s general fund. Portions can also be given to the state.

Wednesday’s suit is not the first of its kind.

In August, El Paso County agreed to a $190,000 settlement after being accused of violating constitutional rights of those who couldn’t afford to pay $55 pretrial supervision fees.

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