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Court-watchers in St. Louis raise alarm at no-bail trend

The Bail Project plans to bail out tens of thousands of people in dozens of cities. Since January, its St. Louis team has bailed out 756 people.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

A new report from the Freedom Community Center compiles data from a year of bail hearings, which it describes as “the front door to the criminal punishment system.”

The report, “A Year in 16B,” focuses on Division 16B in St. Louis’ circuit court. Here, people accused of crimes appear before a rotating lineup of judges, who each get to decide whether the accused is released on bail or held for pre-trial detention. After a year of observation, court-watchers say judges continue to deny bond in the majority of cases, even when the charges at issue are misdemeanors.

In April, Freedom Community Center released its first six-month report, finding that judges in the 22nd Circuit Court opted to deny release for 57% of cases observed from June to December 2021. The full report, released Friday, evaluated more than 1,000 bail hearings over the course of a full year: It found judges reject bond in 62% of cases.

Freedom Community Center Operations Manager Patrick Sullivan, who gathered data for the new report as a court-watcher, told St. Louis on the Air that while courts have improved their pre-trial release policies, "the reality is that's simply not good enough."

He continued: "These are people who are legally innocent, they are being detained. And even one or two days can have these extraordinary ripple effects, that put people out of their homes that make them lose their jobs, and that ripple into the community."

To learn more about the new report, listen to the full conversation with Patrick Sullivan on St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Court-watchers in St. Louis raise alarm at no-bail trend

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 produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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