The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is awarding $1.3 million to Saint Louis County and the University of Missouri–St. Louis to continue building on their collaborative efforts to rethink the local criminal justice system, safely reduce St. Louis County’s jail population and eliminate racial inequities.
The new grant brings the foundation’s total investment in St. Louis County to $5.8 million to date, and is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $246 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration and advance racial equity in local criminal justice systems by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.
The Safety and Justice Challenge is supporting local leaders, individuals directly and most impacted by the justice system and the broader community in St. Louis County and across the country who are determined to address one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in America – the misuse and overuse of jails. St. Louis County, partnering with UMSL’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, was first selected to join the Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2016 and has since used the resources and funding provided by the initiative to implement evidence-based solutions. Criminology and Criminal Justice Professor Beth Huebner has been leading those efforts.
“Over the last five years, our partnership with the MacArthur Foundation has advanced our ability to safely reduce St. Louis County’s jail population,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said. “We look forward to building on the progress that has been made and seeking out additional ways to reform criminal justice in our community.”
These solutions include expediting case processing for individuals awaiting trial in jail for low-level felonies through a multi-agency collaborative planning group, providing early defense representation to defendants at arraignment and bond review hearings, expediting probation violation processing and expanding pretrial support services. As a result, the average daily population of the jail has decreased by more than 30 percent during the granting period, reductions that have largely been maintained despite the challenges associated with COVID-19.
St. Louis County was one of 15 jurisdictions selected for additional funding based on the promise and progress of work to date. This new round of funding will provide St. Louis County, UMSL and their partners with continued support and expert technical assistance to strengthen and expand strategies that address the main drivers, and resulting racial inequities, of local jail incarceration.
Additionally, building on St. Louis County’s progress to date is especially critical as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustices against Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color reinforce the need to transform how the system operates. COVID-19 exacerbated the existing barriers to understanding and accessing the courts.
One promising innovation seeking to increase citizen engagement in the justice system is the launch of the Tap In Center. Local justice-involved agencies working with the St. Louis County Safety and Justice Challenge team partnered with the St. Louis County Library and The Bail Project to offer a program providing a safe space for individuals to get legal assistance, including assistance in resolving warrants, and access local support services. The Tap In Center is open in the Library’s Florissant Valley branch lobby on Tuesdays from 6-8 p.m. Visitors can come in person to the branch, located at 195 New Florissant Rd., South in Florissant, Missouri, call 314-669-6185, or email TapInSTL@gmail.com for help.
“The collaboration between key justice system stakeholders fostered through the Safety and Justice Challenge has been critical to reducing St. Louis County’s jail population,” Huebner said. “Community agencies, like the Bail Project and the St. Louis County Library, have also been key partners in this effort and have helped the group better understand and respond to the needs of the community, particularly during the time of COVID-19. Much work continues to be needed to confront inequities in the system, and the team is poised to continue to continue to implement data and evidence-based policy.”
The partnership includes participation from the 21st Circuit Court, Department of Justice Services, Missouri Division of Probation and Parole, Missouri State Public Defenders, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and several other community organizations. Huebner joined St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell and Chief St. Louis County Public Defender Beverly Hauber for a telebriefing and Q&A — moderated by Emily Bazelon of The New York Times — on Tuesday morning featuring a discussion with local justice leaders and national criminal justice experts about one of the biggest drivers of mass-incarceration, the misuse and overuse of jails.
St. Louis County has developed a comprehensive plan for additional strategies and initiatives over the next two years to invest in a safer, more effective and more equitable system. These include work with community service providers to expand access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, expand and warrant resolution efforts and continue to build the technological infrastructure and data capacity needed to sustain this work. Notably, a public-facing jail population data dashboard is now available on the Department of Justice Services’ website.
More than five years after its public launch, the Safety and Justice Challenge has grown into a collaborative of 51 jurisdictions in 32 states modeling and inspiring reforms to create more fair, just and equitable local justice systems across the country.
“Now more than ever, we must confront the devastating impacts of mass incarceration by a system that over-polices and over-incarcerates Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur Foundation’s director of criminal justice. “Over the past five years, the Safety and Justice Challenge has safely reduced the ineffective and harmful use of jails, while learning that jail population reduction alone does not undo the racial inequities perpetuated by an unjust system and our nation’s history of systemic racism. We are committed to supporting cities and counties as they reimagine a definition of safety that is inclusive of all communities and makes meaningful progress towards our goal of ending racial and ethnic disparities in jails.”
“The Safety and Justice Challenge has been crucial to our efforts to reduce the jail population in St. Louis County, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said Douglas Burris, the director of the St. Louis County Justice Center. “The additional support will help us sustain these efforts to ensure that citizens in jail and in the community are safe and able to thrive.”
Several of the nation’s leading criminal justice organizations will continue to provide technical assistance and counsel to St. Louis County partners, and the other jurisdictions involved in the Safety and Justice Challenge. These include the Center for Court Innovation, Everyday Democracy, Nexus Community Partners, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, JFA Institute, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Pretrial Justice Institute, Policy Research, Inc., the Vera Institute of Justice, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, Urban Institute, and Bennett Midland.
More information about the work underway in St. Louis County can be found on www.SafetyandJusticeChallenge.org.