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The highly publicized Department of Justice’s 2014 report of its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department brought further attention to the debtors’ prison lawsuits, unleashing an onslaught of additional complaints exposing debtors’ prison schemes. City of Montgomery, resulted in settlement agreements promising—among many other things—that anyone below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level would be considered indigent and, thus, would not be jailed for being unable to pay off their LFOs. Third, there are no guarantees that these changes will be permanent a few years after the outcome of the litigation, be it a settlement agreement or a court order. Second, litigation is costly in terms of time and resources, preventing it from helping everyone in the affected population. First Amended Class Action Complaint at 9, Cain v. The debtors’ prison scheme refers to the intentional practice of incarcerating individuals for unpaid fines and criminal justice fees.
Part III demonstrates that the debtors’ prison scheme functions as a form of racialized social control similar to the War on Drugs, using Michelle Alexander’s analysis in The New Jim Crow. Roberts, whose income consisted in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) benefits and a monthly Social Security disability check, shoplifted twenty-one dollars’ worth of food from a grocery store. According to the ACLU of Colorado, the Jefferson County Jail counted at least 154 individuals who were serving time in jail because they could not afford to pay their criminal justice debt. In 20, the ACLU of Colorado sent letters to the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, as well as to the mayors of three Colorado municipalities: the cities of Westminster, Northglenn, and Wheat Ridge. Census, Latino/as counted for 20.7% of the population in Westminster, 30.6% in Northglenn, and 16.3% in Wheat Ridge. As noted earlier, many communities of color represent a large part of communities living in poverty. The ACLU pointed out that the Fourteenth Amendment barred states from revoking probation based solely on failure to repay criminal justice debt if the defendant had made bona fide efforts to do so, unless no other sanction would advance the government’s purpose. Using that argument, the ACLU asked that the Colorado legislature set up formal procedures to inquire into defendants’ “ability to pay” status that would meet minimal constitutional standards. As a response to the ACLU’s inquiry, Governor John W. In Colorado, the ACLU noticed that courts were jailing individuals for contempt of court for failure to pay fines, commonly known as “pay or stay.” In one case, Linda Roberts, a disabled woman living in poverty, was arrested and ordered to either pay 6 in criminal justice fees, including court costs, fines, fees, and restitution, or to stay in jail for fifteen days. Her crime? It also required that courts assess an individual’s “ability to pay” in a hearing before incarcerating the individual for failure to pay debts to the state. Finally, it mandated that courts provide notice and a hearing, as well as make “findings on the record” that the defendant can pay “without undue hardship to the defendant or the defendant’s dependents” and that “the defendant has not made a good faith effort to comply with the order.” In short, Colorado’s new law merely restates existing law, including . Interestingly enough, all three municipalities have large Hispanic or Latino/a communities. Hickenlooper signed House Bill 14-101 into law in May 2014. This new law “expanded coverage from fines to any ‘monetary amount’ imposed by sentencing,” which is an important distinction as court costs and fees constitute much of criminal justice debt.