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St. Louis County gets $2.25 million to reduce jail population

St. Louis County jail
File photo
The St. Louis County Jail is located in the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo.

Updated with comments from researchers. - A team led by University of Missouri-St. Louis researcher Beth Huebner will get more than $2 million to reduce the population of the St. Louis County jail.

St. Louis County  is one of 11 jurisdictions to receive a grant through the  John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Safety and Justice Challenge. Over the next two years, the county and its partners will use the funds to reduce the number of people held at the jail by at least 15 percent.

"We're very excited, but we have a lot of work to do and we're ready to get started," Huebner said. "We have put together a fantastic group of partners throughout the St. Louis community."

The $2.25 million will support four interventions, Huebner said, including:

  • Expanding a pre-trial release program that allows select inmates to await trial at home while receiving needed mental health and other services.
  • Implementing a similar program for individuals who violate the terms of their probation in technical ways, such as missing an appointment or not looking for work.

 "People who are in jail are fathers and mothers and members of churches, and just the general community, and if we can keep people in the community, we find that people do much better," Huebner said. "They're more able to keep their jobs, and substance abuse and mental health treatment are best provided in the community."

  • Developing a text alert system that will remind municipal court defendants about upcoming court dates, payment options and information on court policies. 
  • Developing an online portal that will allow individuals to look up information about a ticket they received in any municipality, including by name or street intersection. 

"The court intervention may not have a large impact immediately on the jail population," Huebner said. "But what we see is people continually coming in contact with the court system, and we're hoping that we'll stop that churning through the system. We're focusing on procedural justice."
"The way we misuse and over-use jails in this country takes an enormous toll on our social fabric and undermines the credibility of government action, with particularly dire consequences for communities of color," said MacArthur Foundation Julia Stasch, the president of the MacArthur Foundation in a written statement.

The vast majority of the $2.25 million will go to cover treatment costs, Huebner said. The goal is to leverage success into additional funding after the grant expires, and also to re-invest the cost savings.

According to official statistics submitted with the grant application, there were 1,229 people in the St. Louis County jail on Dec. 1, 2015, just barely below maximum capacity. A majority - 65 percent - were there because they could not afford to bond out.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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