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ArchCity Defenders executive director Thomas Harvey to leave St. Louis, start national project

Lara Hamdan
St. Louis Public Radio
Thomas Harvey will move to Los Angeles to help establish the Bail Project, which will bail out people held in jail who cannot afford their temporary release.

After spending eight years as executive director of ArchCity Defenders in St. Louis, Thomas Harvey will move to California to take on a much bigger role.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked to Harvey about his career and what work he hopes to continue. Harvey will move to Los Angeles at the end of the year to establish a national organization that will bail out people held in jail who cannot afford their temporary release.

He will help launch the Bail Project, which aims to set up community bail funds in 40 cities across the country. He said the organization will work with community organizers and activists to bail out 150,000 people over the next five years. The project’s first sites will be in St. Louis, Tulsa and the Bronx.

“There are many people sitting in jail who are not a threat to their community and would already be returned to their community if they simply had the money to do it,” he said.

People held on pre-trial detention are still considered innocent under the legal system.

Harvey, who co-founded ArchCity Defenders, said the civil rights advocacy organization wants to disrupt the cash-bail system. That system allows people to stay out of jail until their trial only if they can afford it.

“Obviously this only penalizes poor people. And in St. Louis and in most urban areas, that only penalizes people of color, and that’s something we’re really trying to change,” he said.

Earlier this week,ArchCity Defenders filed a lawsuit against the City of St. Louis for the conditions in the Medium Security Institution.

“It was important to file this lawsuit and to try call for a closure of the workhouse,” he said. “I think everybody in this community understands that this is an outdated facility.”

Replacing Harvey will be ArchCity Defenders staff attorney, Blake Strode. The St. Louis native is a Harvard Law School graduate and received a Skadden fellowship.

“[Strode] has fit in instantly from the beginning and has taken a very slow, calm, steady increased leadership role over the course of the last few years and he’s just ready for this position,” Harvey said. 


St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.