St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner and District Defender Matthew Mahaffey said they are working together to get non-violent offenders out of city jails, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gardner and Mahaffey identified 56 individuals with low-level offenses or significant health issues for the court to consider for immediate pre-trial release, according to a joint statement issued on Wednesday, March 25.
The 22nd Circuit Court agreed, and those people have been released, according to Gardner’s office.
“This release is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the community inside of jails, to court personnel, and to the greater community,” according to the statement. “With the assistance of the court, the release of these non-violent individuals provides a benefit for the city, which no longer has to bear the cost of housing them, and for the defendants and their families by mitigating their potential exposure to the [novel] coronavirus.”
The St. Louis American requested a comment from the 22nd Circuit Court and are awaiting a response.
These 56 individuals’ cases do not involve victims, according to Gardner’s office.
As of March 24, 786 people were in one of the city’s two jails — 637 in the St. Louis Justice Center and 149 in the Medium Security Institute, also known as the Workhouse. Only seven were misdemeanors, which likely involved domestic violence, according to Gardner’s office.
Gardner is also trying to keep new inmates from going into the jails because they could be a carrier of the virus without realizing it, she said. Today, Gardner sent out an internal memo instructing her team to start examining cases involving technical violations for probation.
These cases could involve someone who didn’t show up for a probation officer’s meeting for the third time. Normally, these people would get a probation violation and be confined to jail.
“If they are non-violent and not a public-safety risk, we are going to agree to a release,” Gardner said.
Gardner’s biggest worry is the “jail churn,” or exposing the current jail population to new people from the outside.
“That’s why people all around the country are trying to reduce their populations,” she said. “The whole point is to make sure we stop the spread of this virus.”
Gardner and Mahaffey are also working with the Bail Project and other organizations who bail out people in jail because they failed to appear to court numerous times and now have a bond amount.
“The harsh health realities of COVID-19 demand unique collaboration from all persons, groups, and organizations within the criminal justice community in order to ensure justice is pursued in a humane and consistent manner,” according to the joint statement. “We will continue to work together to balance public safety and the critical health issues posed by this deadly virus.”