St. Louis officials are asking for more time to determine which of the nearly 900 felony detainees should be freed from jail, citing concerns that a judge’s ruling could put potentially dangerous suspects back on the streets.
U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig ruled Tuesday that St. Louis must stop jailing people awaiting trial simply because they can’t afford bail. Her ruling said that moving in future anyone arrested must have a hearing within 48 hours. It also gave the city one week to hold detention hearings for inmates already behind bars.
The city’s request filed last week seeks at least 30 days, saying a week isn’t enough time to adequately address hundreds of cases.
City Counselor Julian Bush said in a news release that most detainees are jailed for serious felonies, including 92 charged with first-degree murder.
“Our concern is for the safety of our residents, visitors and businesses,” Bush said.
Fleissig’s ruling allows inmates to remain jailed if they are deemed dangerous.
The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in January alleging that people arrested and detained in St. Louis typically don’t get a hearing on release conditions until obtaining a lawyer. For those who can’t afford an attorney, appointment of a public defender can take months, meaning people accused of, but not convicted of, a crime often linger behind bars.
Bush’s office said that in addition to the first-degree murder suspects, current detainees include 23 others charged with lesser levels of homicide, 71 charged with first-degree assault, 96 charged with first-degree robbery and others accused of crimes such as domestic violence and sexual offenses.
In the motion, Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass wrote that without a stay he may be “required to release dangerous prisoners into the community without any judicially-approved conditions of release and without any ability to supervise such persons, as I have neither the staff nor budget to create a pretrial release reporting service.”
The lawsuit was brought by several advocacy law organizations, including St. Louis-based ArchCity Defenders. Blake Strode, executive director of ArchCity Defenders, said hundreds of people are detained in St. Louis “merely because of their poverty.”
St. Louis isn’t alone. The ACLU has filed lawsuits alleging unfair bail practices in Alabama, Texas, Florida, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, New York and California. Many prosecutors also have instituted new policies to end cash bail for many low-level crimes, including prosecutors in St. Louis city and St. Louis County.