A case study of public defender cases between 2015 and 2016 found that people awaiting trial in St. Louis, who were overwhelmingly African American, spent an average of 81 days in jail for cases that were eventually dismissed. Despite St. Louis not historically having problems with people failing to appear in court, nine people spent between 401 and 800 days in jail awaiting trial for cases that were dismissed. Overall, these individuals spent a total of 86,668 days in jail, which cost the city an estimated $6,586,768. Another report revealed that only 10 percent of those detained from March 1-17, 2017 had the financial resources to post bond. These statistics highlight troubling inequities in the St. Louis bail-bond system, as well as the opportunity to reform the system to dramatically improve outcomes for the most vulnerable citizens.
Balancing the need for public safety with fair and attainable bail and pre-trial-detention alternatives is a high priority in the wake of the dissolution of the city’s pre-trial release program. St. Louis’ history as a city with a high rate of violent crime, coupled with an inaccurate, negative public perception of non-violent offenders, has significantly driven up bail and bond rates over the past few years, even though setting reasonable bail in these cases is unlikely to compromise public safety.
Aside from generating high costs for the city, extended incarceration while awaiting trial creates a myriad of problems for individuals, including mental distress as well as a loss of employment, housing, family and community support networks. Being detained for extended periods prior to trial makes it far more difficult for people to remain productive members of society than if they had been released on bail while awaiting their court dates. To this end, the St. Louis Department of Public Safety and The Bail Project are dedicated to initiating pre-trial detention reform that reduces bail rates – thus reducing the number of people awaiting trial in the city’s two jails – to eliminate unnecessary barriers for reentry, recovery, or reintegration to society post-conviction or acquittal.
To support this work, the St. Louis Department of Public Safety will partner with FUSE Corps to host an executive-level fellow for one year who will develop a toolkit of bail/bond alternatives that provide the greatest benefit to the community. The project may include the development of a risk-based evaluation framework to assist judges in determining whether or not a person credible harm to the community when determining bail, the creation of a menu of alternatives (e.g., community corrections) to reduce their likelihood of reoffending as well as create automated court-date reminders to ensure appearance. Ultimately these reforms aim to reduce the number of people detained in the city’s jails by 40 percent while ensuring court appearances and not increasing crime rates.
Project Summary & POtential deliverables
The following provides a general overview of the proposed fellowship project. This project summary and the potential deliverables that follow will be collaboratively revisited by the host agency, the fellow, and FUSE staff during the first few months of the fellowship, after which a revised scope of work will be developed and agreed upon by the FUSE Fellow and the host agency.
Starting in September 2018, it is proposed the FUSE Fellow, in conjunction with the St. Louis Department of Public Safety and The Bail Project, will begin working collaboratively with the mayor’s office, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, police, corrections, and other key stakeholders to design a comprehensive pre-trial bail reform initiative.
A skilled relationship builder, the fellow will be expected to develop a rapport with the city’s circuit attorney and myriad other public officials across multiple agencies to generate interest and secure buy-in for the proposed initiative. With a passion for social justice reform, the fellow will pursue pre-trial detention reform amid pushback from officials and agencies with competing priorities without alienating key stakeholders. By September 2019, the fellow should be able to present a comprehensive plan for strategic restructuring that meets both public safety needs and upholds the rights of pre-trial detainees.
- Assess current pre-trial detention processes: Complete a comprehensive data analysis of the current pre-trial detention statistics that also includes data for comparable cities that have implemented pre-trial detention reform. The report should show the benefits of bail reform for the community, the courts and individuals, and include both cost savings as well as non-financial incentives for both individuals and the community at large.
- Foster relationships with multiple agencies and individuals: Develop positive working relationships with police, the mayor’s office, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, community social justice groups, and other key stakeholders to generate positive interest and gain buy in for the implementation of a pre-trial detention reform plan.
- Develop comprehensive pre-trial detention reform plan: Create a comprehensive plan for pre-trial detention reform that clearly outlines a timeline for reducing the number of people housed in St. Louis’ two jails by 40 percent, as well as a timeline for permanently closing one of the facilities. The plan should outline realistic alternatives for bail/bonds that are unattainable for socioeconomically disadvantaged people cycling through the St. Louis criminal justice system, implementation of a court-appearance-accountability system for those out on bail, a clear process for assigning social workers for reintegration post detainment, and a cost/benefit analysis toolkit for evaluating a person’s risk to public safety when setting bail.
- Jimmie Edwards, Director, Department of Public Safety, City of St. Louis
- Carl Filler, Director of Strategic Policy Initiatives, Office of the Mayor, City of St. Louis
- Mary Fox, District Defender, St. Louis City Trial Office, Missouri State Public Defender System
- Ezra Ritchin, Director of Operations, The Bail Project
- Michael Mullen, Presiding Judge, 22nd Judicial Circuit Court
- Beth Huebner, Professor of Criminal Justice, University of Missouri, St. Louis
- At least 15 years of professional experience in a relevant field, particularly with a strong background in program design and implementation, operations management, data analysis, community building, and project management.
- Passion for criminal justice reform and advancing social justice.
- Superior critical thinking and analytical skills.
- Strong cross collaboration and negotiation skills.
- Ability to synthesize complex information into clear and concise recommendations.
- Ability to relate to a wide variety of diverse audiences with strong emotional intelligence and empathy.
- Excellent stakeholder engagement skills and the ability to use facilitative leadership techniques to coordinate stakeholder activities.
- Self-motivated, goal-oriented, entrepreneurial leader who can also be an independent worker.
- Persistent in obtaining information and creatively resourceful in identifying solutions to complex problems.
- Ability to create direction and movement within potentially ambiguous
- Exceptional written and verbal communication skills with an ease in public presentations.
- Understands the need for solutions to support all people in a community regardless of race, religion, gender, immigration status or ethnicity.
- Preference given to candidates from outside of St. Louis.