Passing the Baton: St. Louis Bail Project Comes to a Close, Transitions Services to Freedom Community Center

The Bail Project / Passing the Baton: St. Louis Bail Project Comes to a Close, Transitions Services to Freedom Community Center

(September 27, 2021) ST. LOUIS CITY — The St. Louis branch of The Bail Project today announced the end of its operations after nearly four years. Launched in 2018 as the inaugural site of The Bail Project, the organization’s St. Louis City office provided free bail assistance and community-based pretrial support for more than 3,000 low-income residents while working with the campaign to Close the Workhouse to advocate for closing the infamous jail and redirect public funding to social services. 

“From day one, our goal has been to put ourselves out of business,” said Robin Steinberg, CEO of The Bail Project. “Sometimes we get there through legislative reforms, sometimes through court decisions or changes in prosecutorial practice, and sometimes we exit because there has been significant progress and a new organization is ready to take up the baton and dig deeper. Here, I’m proud to say it’s because of the vision and leadership of our very own Mike Milton, who will now lead his own organization and continue this work.” 

Milton was one of The Bail Project’s first “Bail Disruptors” in St. Louis. Under his leadership, the local office grew to be one of the largest Bail Project sites in the country, assisting clients in more than 9,000 court dates and connecting them to housing, treatment, and other services. People returned to 86% of their court dates, and nearly 50% of them had their cases dismissed. Data from The Bail Project helped support civil rights litigation challenging the bail system in St. Louis, while its immediate relief efforts reduced the population at the Workhouse. From 2018 to 2021, the City jail population decreased from an average daily population of 1,304 to 710 people, a 45% decrease in the overall population. 

With plans to close the Workhouse underway and fewer people assigned cash bail, Steinberg says the work of The Bail Project in St. Louis City is no longer needed at the same scale. Instead, the organization will shift its resources to fund the Freedom Community Center, a new organization founded by Milton. 

“I’m proud of what we accomplished these past four years, and I’m excited about the next chapter,” said Milton. “When we began, our priority was to help as many people as possible who were trapped by the bail system. In the process, we saw firsthand how the current approach undermines due process and reinforces racial disparities, but also how it fails to meet the needs of victims. I’m taking these lessons as we build the Freedom Community Center, our vision for how communities can address harm and violence without relying on the carceral system.”  

The Freedom Community Center is the first restorative and transformative justice organization in St. Louis and launches at a time when St. Louis is re-envisioning public safety. Over the years, Milton consistently heard how the criminal legal system did not give survivors of violence what they needed and how the system perpetuated harm instead of healing and accountability. In addition to its restorative justice program, which supports survivors of violence while creating alternatives to incarceration for those responsible for harm, The Freedom Community Center will continue to provide bail assistance to low-income residents as needed.  

The Freedom Community Center launched earlier this year with an inaugural grant from The Bail Project. The organization is partnering with the Vera Institute for Justice and the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Community Psychological Service as it scales its services. The Bail Project will remain active in St. Louis County and St. Charles County

The Bail Project is a national nonprofit that provides free bail assistance and community-based pretrial support for thousands of low-income Americans every year. We restore the presumption of innocence, reunite families, and challenge a system that criminalizes race and poverty. To date, The Bail Project has secured freedom for more than 17,000 people in 27 cities across the United States. Learn more about The Bail Project at bailproject.org. Read our policy roadmap at aftercashbail.org.

The Freedom Community Center’s mission is to build a movement of survivors that will meaningfully address violence in St. Louis City and collectively design alternatives to state systems of punishment. They fight to end mass incarceration and advocate for transformative justice approaches to reducing harm. Learn more at freedomstl.org.

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