St. Louis prosecutors are trying to keep new inmates from going into jails in St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis to prevent a potential COVID-19 outbreak, and they are trying to reduce the current jail populations.
“We are implementing protocols to limit the flow of people and activity in the Justice Center and courts in an effort to limit exposure to not only the public, but also jail and court staff as well as inmates in the Justice Center,” said St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell in a March 17 statement. “Despite this pandemic, this will not diminish our capacity to issue charges and do our part to keep St. Louis County safe.”
Bell said his office is prioritizing serious and violent cases, and also cases involving confined defendants. If a person is arrested for a nonviolent offense and does not pose a threat to a victim or the community, those individuals will be given a summons to appear in court at a later date, he said. Individuals currently housed in the justice center that have been charged with nonviolent or low-level crimes and do not pose a threat to any victims or the community will be given consideration to be released pending their court date.
Bell said the protocols are in collaboration with the judiciary, law enforcement, public defender’s office, St. Louis County Health Department, Justice Services and the county executive and the County Council.
In a statement on the same day, Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner said that new inmates could lead to the spread of the COVID-19 in the city’s jail population.
“I have requested that only necessary detention hearings are to be conducted by the courts for those individuals that pose a threat to public safety,” Gardner said. “We must balance public safety and make sure going forward we use non-bond options on low level nonviolent cases to help prevent the spread of the virus to jail population and jail employees.”
Gardner said they are coordinating cash bail alternatives for pretrial detainees, or those who have been charged with a crime and are in jail awaiting hearings. If these people are not a public safety risk, they are coordinating conditioned release and personal recognizance (meaning they promise to come back to court for a hearing) with the courts, public defenders and private attorneys.
On Monday, March 16, Presiding Judge Rex Burlison issued a court order suspending all jury trials until April 13. Treatment Court will be temporarily limiting regular Friday morning screenings and Wednesday morning admissions dockets for the next four weeks. Cases already on our admissions docket shall be moved to Wednesday, April 8.
Today, Gardner and 30 other elected prosecutors representing over 17 million people across the country issued a joint statement recommending immediate actions to mitigate community spread of COVID-19 amongst the 2.3 million adults and children held in prisons, local jails, youth correctional facilities, immigration detention centers, and other forms of confinement.
The recommendations include:
- Adopting cite and release policies for any offense that poses no physical threat to the community.
- Releasing individuals who are being held because they cannot afford cash bail, unless they pose a serious risk to public safety.
- Identifying and releasing the elderly, those with medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to infection, and people within six months of completing their sentence or incarcerated on technical violations of probation and parole – unless doing so would pose a serious public safety risk.
- Implementing humane conditions of confinement – including good medical care and maintaining access to and connections with counsel as well as family and loved ones.
- Dramatically reducing immigration detention and not conducting immigration enforcement operations in and around hospitals or medical clinics.
“Elected prosecutors have an obligation to protect all members of the community including those behind prison walls and living in densely populated detention facilities,” said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, which organized the statement. “Make no mistake, an outbreak of the coronavirus in incarceration and detention settings will spread quickly and impact not simply those behind bars, but our entire community. We must act now to reduce the existing detained populations and incarcerate fewer people moving forward. In doing so, we can not only help to reduce the spread of infection but also bring home people who no longer present a safety risk to their communities.”