Our state regional coordinator in Michigan writes, “Certain moments define a society and its leaders. And this is one of them. Unless St. Louis city and county officials take action now, this pandemic will create a humanitarian disaster in our jails, putting lives at risk.“
There is a better way: treat people like individuals rather than statistical “risk scores” and focus on disrupting the cycles of poverty and vulnerability that keep so many trapped in the revolving door of mass incarceration.
Under The Arch, a podcast put out by our friends at ArchCity Defenders and Action St. Louis, sat down with The Bail Project’s Mike Milton and former TBP director of strategic partnerships Thomas Harvey to talk about pretrial incarceration in the city.
When 19-year-old Daehaun White was released from jail in St. Louis, he was so overjoyed that he forgot to check in with a representative for the company EMASS, which straps black boxes with GPS monitoring onto the ankles of people on pretrial release.
Soon, White’s arrest on minor charges spiraled into a debt exceeding $800, all owed to a company that charges defendants $10 a day plus other excessive fees. The city of St. Louis offers defendants no hearing to determine whether they can pay fees for such onerous surveillance.
A federal judgeruled last week that St. Louis jails – including the infamous Workhouse where over 90% of people are detained pretrial –can’t incarcerate people simply because they can’t pay bail. The judgecited data from our St. Louis site in ruling that: “There is no evidence that financial conditions of release are more effective than alternatives for ensuring court appearance and public safety.” However, as of now, St. Louis courts are holding up new bail hearings for people entitled to them.
I’m thrilled to be sharing an update about our work in St. Louis, MO.
As you may know, St. Louis was The Bail Project’s first site. From the beginning, a key goal of our work here was to decarcerate and close The Workhouse, a jail in St. Louis City where nearly everybody is detained before trial and over 90 percent of the people are Black.
The Workhouse is notorious for its horrible conditions – rats, snakes, roaches, overflowing sewage, inadequate medical care, no heat or air conditioning, even on 125 degree days. If there’s a place that will make you throw the towel and take a guilty plea, it’s this jail.
We knew the Workhouse had to close, and that it would take different tactics to make it happen. So, along with our partners Action STL and ArchCity Defenders, we helped start a coalition to Close the Workhouse last year. Bailouts, organizing, public education, storytelling, and civil rights litigation – the coalition combined them all into one powerful movement for equal justice and true freedom, led by people who have been incarcerated at the Workhouse themselves.
One year later, this dream is within reach. Tireless organizing from our community has shifted public opinion in favor of closing the Workhouse, and the success of our St. Louis team in bailing out over 700 people from the Workhouse and providing them with adequate pretrial support has demonstrated that our model offers a viable alternative to cash bail and pretrial detention.
I’m so proud and humbled that our team has been a part of Close the Workhouse. You can learn more about the campaign in the latest episode of BET’s ‘Finding Justice’, which aired over the weekend. The segment features interviews with many of our fellow activists and clients.
We still have a ways to go. There are still about 800 people – overwhelmingly Black people – incarcerated pretrial in St. Louis City. Closing the Workhouse will be a necessary first step in helping us find justice. I look forward to the day I can write back with news that this jail has finally closed its doors forever.
In the meantime, I’ll pass along this shout-out, as it belongs not only to our teams but to everyone who makes The Bail Project possible!