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County Library’s ‘Tap In Center’ Helps Residents Resolve Warrants, Get Legal Assistance

File photo / Kara Hayes Smith
The St. Louis County Library hosts the Tap In Center at the Florissant Valley Branch.

When St. Louis County resident Wakesha Cook wanted to reschedule a court date last month, she found legal advice in an unusual place: her public library.

The help came via a new program called the Tap In Center. With it, the St. Louis County Library seeks to provide a safe space for people who need assistance in resolving warrants, meeting with an attorney, learning their case status, applying for a public defender or even just accessing a cellphone.

Since launching the program last fall, the library said 50 warrants have been resolved and 86 people have received free assistance with their criminal cases.

Wakesha Cook is just one satisfied customer.

Coming to the library rather than a courthouse, she said: “I actually didn’t have to be afraid of getting locked up. When I went in, they were very polite and helpful. They got me a new court date right away [and] a public defender.”

Added Cook, “I feel free.”

Cook spoke with Sarah Fenske on Wednesday on St. Louis on the Air, alongside public defender Jemia Steele and Hattie Svoboda-Stel, a court support specialist with the Bail Project. Both Steele and Svoboda-Stel work at the Tap In Center at the Florissant Valley branch.

“Thus far, it’s been pretty helpful for us to have it be virtual and in person,” Svoboda-Stel said. Ideally, she added, the program will eventually branch out to other locations — particularly jurisdictions that face higher rates of failure to appear in court.

“Ninety percent of the time when people miss court, they are not running. It is almost always related to some sort of poverty-related boundary or hurdle — not being able to make it, not having access to the information they need, not having coverage for their job or babysitting,” Svoboda-Stel said.

She added that programs like the Tap In Center are “a humanitarian approach to recognizing the issues that people face when they have to go to a court date every month for months and months and months until their case might be resolved.”

Kristen Sorth, director of the St. Louis County Library, said that advocates working in the criminal justice system (including the Bail Project, the Missouri State Public Defender Office and the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge) approached the library with the idea. She said it made sense to utilize the library as a meeting place.

“It’s just a safe, neutral, calm, welcoming space, and it’s removing all of those barriers and those worries that someone might have going into the court system,” she said.

Individuals seeking more information on the Tap In Center can call 314-669-6185, email TapInSTL@gmail.com or visit www.slcl.org/tap-in-center.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.