Legal advice at St. Louis County libraries helping keep people out of jail
Two legal help centers at St. Louis County libraries are helping to keep people out of jail, officials said Wednesday.
“The Tap In Center is not just a great idea, but it’s a beautiful idea,” said William Newsome, operations manager for the Bail Project in St. Louis. “Once they come in here and realize that they can get that warrant recalled, and then leave here — you can actually see their stress level relieved. These people know that they don't have to leave their family and lose their jobs or not be able to gain this employment.”
Officials associated with the Tap In Center met Wednesday to tout the program and said it has helped close to 800 people since it began in 2020. It’s located at St. Louis County Library branches in Florissant and Moline Acres. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said it goes hand-in-hand with the county’s efforts to overhaul criminal justice.
“One person who visited the Tap In Center said this: ‘It kept me out of jail. It allowed me to work and stay in treatment – and mainly stay out of the system,’” Page said. “Once you get in the system, it’s hard to get out.”
Page said 86% of the clients of the Tap In Center who have a warrant recalled never end up in the St. Louis County Jail.
“Initiatives like this save taxpayer money, reduce the chances of reoffending and protect defendants from losing wages or being separated from their families and children,” Page said.
The Tap In Center expanded to the Moline Aces branch of the St. Louis County Library in 2022. Page said whether the program expands to more libraries is dependent on funding. Besides the Bail Project, some organizations involved with the program include the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office, the MacArthur Foundation Safety & Justice Challenge, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
“We think we have the data to demonstrate value,” said Page, adding the funding comes from a MacArthur Foundation grant.
The Tap In Center is available from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Tuesday at the Florissant Valley branch of the library and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the Lewis and Clark branch.