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St. Louis Nonprofit Offers Updated Guide To Navigate Justice System

Provided | ArchCity Defenders

ArchCity Defenders, the nonprofit civil rights law firm, has teamed up with the St. Louis County Library and the Mound City Bar Association to launch revised versions of its local “know your rights” guides.

Called Pro Se STL, the Latin translation of “for oneself,” the two pocket-sized guides focus on dealing with police and jail, as well as representing yourself in St. Louis Municipal Courts.

ArchCity Defenders Executive Director Blake Strode said the goal is to equip people with the necessary tools to help themselves when access to legal resources is unavailable.

“The need for legal resources in this region for folks who can’t actually afford to pay for lawyers is extremely high,” Strode said. “And we see that everyday. We see it in folks that we have to turn away that we can’t offer services to. And so, we always knew that there were lots of people for whom these guides could be a real resource.”

The updated guide will include a revised rule on cash bail by the Missouri Supreme Court that’s set to go into effect in July.

Since launching the first guide a year ago the guides have been distributed to more than 40 social service organizations, legal partners, libraries and municipal courts throughout the region.

Strode said he’s been surprised by the support that the nonprofit has received from people within the legal system who see people walk into a municipal courtroom day in and day out unprepared to navigate the process.

“We talk a lot about the judges and lawyers that are operating in these courts,” Strode said, “but there are also clerks, and there’s security, and there’s other folks who are there and see people coming into court, not really knowing what to do, not really having the resources that they need. And that’s a big structural problem that these guides only do a small part to help try to close that gap.”

He said so far the overall response to the guides from people in the community has been positive.

“We’ve actually heard anecdotally from people that in those moments they just felt some security at least knowing the basics of what some of their rights were in those moments, which really are what the guides are meant to do and be,” Strode said.

ArchCity Defenders willhost a reboot and guide folding event on May 30 at 7 p.m. at the Florissant Branch Library. Theupdated guideswill also be available online.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011

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Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.