Advocates claim victory as Denver Sheriff Department says it will waive a contested jail fee for new detainees

This comes on the heels of a lawsuit from the ACLU against Denver for unfair jailing practices.

Elisabeth Epps poses for a portrait in front of the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center downtown, May 11, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Elisabeth Epps poses for a portrait in front of the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center downtown, May 11, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Allan Tellis. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Yesterday evening, just before 5 p.m., Denver Sheriff Patrick Firman issued a press release stating that, effective immediately, “the $30 jail processing fee will be waived for all pre-trial detainees.”

This comes on the heels of the ACLU suing the city of Denver for unfairly jailing people who did not have the ability to pay their way out of jail based on fees, typically for minor offenses. That financially based jailing conundrum was the situation of the young man at the heart of the ACLU case, Mickey Howard, who was bonded out with the help of Elisabeth Epps, with the Colorado Freedom Fund, over a $10 bail he was not able to pay after the other fees associated with jailing.

Also, last week, the Denver County Court changed the way they assess the $50 fee directly associated with bail. They moved that fee from the front end of the jailing process to the latter end of the case to make sure that people would not be held in jail for an inability to pay the bail fee.

Epps said she considers this a huge victory in the fight for what she calls equitable freedom practices.

“When you have people in jail for 10 and 20 dollar bonds and the booking fee is more than that, that’s outrageous,” Epps said.

“At the Colorado Freedom Fund we want an end to money bail in Colorado. Especially for misdemeanors and low-level offenses. We want an end to unfair fines and fees that are keeping people in jail.”

Epps explained that this processing fee, now waived, was one of the bookend fees that can make it difficult for someone to make it out of jail with bonds as low as 10 or 20 dollars. She also said that it really only affects certain arrestees because the processing fee was only taken if the person had cash, which disproportionately affected those who didn’t keep their money on credit cards or electronically.

For instance, previously, someone who walked into jail with $85 in their pocket and a $20 bond would not have had enough money to get out. Upon the arrestee entering the jail, the jail would have taken the $30 fee, leaving the person with $55.

But before they could have the opportunity to pay their bail and walk out, they would have had to pay a separate $50 bail fee associated with bonding out that was assessed by the courts. They would then only have had $5 left and been stuck in jail with a $20 bond because they would have been $15 short of the actual bail cost.

With the jail fee waived and the court-assessed bail fee moved, that person would now be able to head out of the jail by just paying their $20 bond.

Epps didn’t expect this proclamation to come this soon but really feels that this an example of Denver heading in a progressive direction when it comes to jailing practices.

“More people will be able to post their own bond because their money will go to paying their own bond. Having spent time in several Front Range jails, it’s exciting to see Denver be on the front line of moving toward a more fair and more equitable system of helping people get free,” Epps said.

In the release, the Sheriff Department explicitly noted that this change was brought about by the actions taken by the ACLU. The Colorado Freedom Fund had put Howard in touch with the ACLU.

“This issue was brought to Denver’s attention on October 10, 2018, by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Sheriff took immediate action to reinforce the long-standing practice of not detaining individuals for inability to pay the $30.00 processing fee.”

Clarification: An editor’s earlier headline for this story did not specify that the changes would affect new detainees.