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City to target pre-trial defendants for services with new program

Mayor Francis Slay, along with officials from his administration and non-profit partners, announces new resources targeted at inmates awaiting trial at the Medium Security Institution on Sept. 8, 2015.
Nassim Benchaabane | St. Louis Public Radio

The city of St. Louis is hoping a new program targeting young offenders who are awaiting trial will help get the rising crime rate under control.

Mayor Francis Slay, along with other members of his administration and representatives of social services agencies, gathered outside the city's Medium Security Institution Tuesday morning to launch "From Prison to Prosperity." It's designed to help inmates between the ages of 17 and 24 who are awaiting trial at the MSI -- the first program meant for those who have not yet gone to prison.

"We have been doing re-entry programs in the past," Slay said. "But this is a new program. We've not seen anything like it as long as I can recall here at MSI, or at any other city institutions."

Many of those housed at MSI are first-time offenders and are there solely because they cannot make bail. Some will not be convicted of any crime or may be sentenced to probation. The idea behind the new initiative is simple -- give them the skills to avoid a return trip.

Over 12 months, participants will get job and financial literacy training, as well as access to other social services. There's enough funding for 130 inmates.

"This kind of a program gives us an opportunity to divert them from a life of crime, perhaps, and then give them a chance to be productive in the community," said the city's corrections commissioner, Dale Glass.

With crime running 13 percent ahead of last year and the city on track to have more than 200 homicides for the first time since 1995, officials are scrambling for any tool to get a handle on the numbers.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed said she expects the new program to have a big impact on recidivism numbers.

"Too often, many of them come out, they've made mistakes in the past, they want to change their lives, they're living below the poverty line, many of them have children, they owe child support, but they can't get a job because they're felons," Nasheed said.

Participants in the program will not have their record expunged, but Richard Gray, the city's public safety director, said the Department of Corrections shares with the prosecutors and the court information about how inmates conduct themselves while behind bars. That would include using the services available through Prisons to Prosperity.

Michael Holmes, the head of SLATE, the city's job training agency, said the program's crime-reducing impacts will likely be felt in the future.

"We’re hoping that an individual, understanding why they’re in here, will be enthusiastic about the help we're giving them and will change their life," Holmes said.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.