St. Louis County, MO

Change in Jail Population 25%

Action Areas Community Engagement Diversion Interagency Collaboration Pretrial Services Racial Disparities

Last Updated

Background

Prior to joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, St. Louis County’s jail population had been either near or over capacity for over a decade. The county’s original goal was both to keep more people out of jail, and to reduce the overrepresentation of people of color in the jail population.

After the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, in the northern part of St. Louis County, the county aimed to rise to the challenge of the resulting calls for reform. The Safety and Justice Challenge was how stakeholders from across the system came together with the goal of making bold systemic justice reform possible.

St. Louis County’s interventions required changes from many in the criminal justice system. Most of the work has focused on systematic case processing and access to justice.

Strategies

St. Louis County advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.

01

POPULATION REVIEW TEAM

A multi-disciplinary Population Review Team has been tasked with examining the jail population and the racial and ethnic composition of the jail, identifying factors related to long stays in jail, and improving case processing at every level: from the individual, to agencies, to entire systems. The team serves as a voice for reform and a laboratory for innovative solutions for the criminal justice community.

02

ENHANCED PRETRIAL REFORM

Two Justice Services case managers currently provide enhanced pretrial supervision and support, as well as connect people with the substance abuse and mental health services they need. Additionally, a team of social workers from a local mental health treatment provider is embedded in the jail to assess residents’ needs and work with jail staff to establish discharge plans based on what each individual needs most.

03

PRETRIAL ASSESSMENT

The Public Safety Assessment tool was designed to more accurately identify people who can be safely released and supervised in the community, using rigorously evidence-based criteria. The tool was rolled out in November 2019 and was officially launched in January 2020.

04

LEGAL REPRESENTATION

SJC funds support two MacArthur attorneys who provide limited legal representation at arraignment and bond reduction hearings, where they can advocate for reduced bond or release on recognizance. Funds also support an Indigence Specialist to work with the Public Defender’s office to expedite application reviews and efficient case processing.

05

EXPEDITED PROBATION HANDLING

In order to decrease the average length of stay for individuals awaiting probation violation proceedings, individuals are screened in the jail to help identify the nature of the violation, get them reconnected with probation, and fast-track the hearing process.

06

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Through a partnership between the criminal justice system and the community, the need for a new initiative – the Tap In Center — was identified. Launched in September 2020 in partnership with the St. Louis County Library and The Bail Project, this community-based space helps justice-involved individuals handle legal matters, address outstanding warrants, and connect with much-needed local services and supports.

Results

As a result of the strategies above, St. Louis County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system. A 2019 analysis by CUNY-ISLG demonstrated that the strategies used by the county as part of its engagement in the Safety and Justice Challenge were instrumental in sustaining the decline of the jail population.

Quartery ADP for St. Louis (2016-2021)

24.6% from baseline

More Results

Strategies including the launch of the Initial Appearance Program have proved successful. Between April 2019 and early 2021, over 900 individuals have been supported with legal representation. Before the program, 53% of individuals were held on no bond or a cash-only bond at initial appearance. When people came to the initial appearance with legal representation, 78% of individuals had a reduction in bond or negotiated a release on recognizance, without paying bail.

As a result of the expedited probation program, the average length of stay for individuals decreased from 99 days to just 12 days during the period of 2017 to 2019. Because of the success of the program, the Missouri Probation and Parole department now fully funds the program and has hired staff to work at the county jail to fully institutionalize it.

Each of the county’s strategies is meant to decrease the disproportionate burden that people of color face in the criminal justice system. St. Louis County is also advised by the Ethnic and Racial Disparities committee, made up of criminal justice stakeholders, representatives from community advocacy groups, and individuals with lived experiences. As a result, the county is also seeing a sustained decline in racial and ethnic inequities in its justice system. As of Fall 2020, the population of Black people detained in jail has declined 37% during the Safety and Justice Challenge grant period, compared with 31% among white people. Length of stay has also declined, with Black individuals experiencing a 44% decline in the length of stay compared with 41% for white individuals.

The Population Review Team (PRT) has been meeting regularly since June 2018 to identify people who do not need to be in jail and can be safely released pretrial. As a result of the work of the PRT, there has since been a substantial decline in the Average Daily Population of people in the jail. Overall, the PRT has become a laboratory for innovation with committed stakeholders at the table who are committed to advancing the goals of SJC and beyond.

The newest St. Louis County initiative, the Tap In Center, has proved especially popular. For example, one individual visited the Tap In Center in January 2021 to get a public defender and a new court date. She said, “I am just very pleased with this program, I’ve felt stuck all my life with these warrants. To know that this program is available to help people, it’s a real reliever! Now that I don’t have a warrant I am about to be getting a job thanks to the Tap In Center!”

Remaining Challenges

St. Louis County is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

While progress has been made in reducing racial and ethnic disparities, there is still work to be done in advancing equity in St. Louis County’s jails. The county will continue to work with the local community to develop initiatives that are responsive to the need for reform and assess any possible negative outcomes that could happen as a result.

St. Louis County has also developed a comprehensive plan for additional strategies and initiatives to invest in a safer, more effective, and more equitable system. The county will work with community service providers to expand access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, expand warrant resolution efforts, and continue to build the technological infrastructure and data capacity needed to sustain this work.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on local justice systems and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in local jails. The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the county up well to respond to the pandemic swiftly and effectively.

Lead Agency

St. Louis County

Contact Information

Beth Huebner
SJC Project Director
huebnerb@umsl.edu

Miranda Gibson
SJC Project Manager
mgibson@stlouisco.com

Partners

21st Judicial Circuit Court, St. Louis County Department of Justice Services, Office of the County Executive of St. Louis County, Missouri State Public Defenders, Missouri Division of Probation and Parole, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, St. Louis County Police, The Bail Project, Places for People, St. Louis County Library, Queen of Peace

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