FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Courtney Stewart
Missouri Foundation for Health
New Partnership Established to Reduce
St. Louis City’s Incarceration Rate and Improve Health
ST. LOUIS, MO (August 5, 2018) – Recognizing the long-term negative health effects that high incarceration rates have on communities, Missouri Foundation for Health has formed a new partnership with the City of St. Louis to address criminal justice reform. With support from the Foundation, St. Louis City is teaming up with FUSE Corp, a national nonprofit, to reduce the city’s jail population by 40 percent over the next five years and substantially reduce the jails’ housing facilities. Through this collaboration the city will hire two external, executive-level FUSE fellows for 12 months. One will devote their time to bail-bond reform, aiming to decrease the number of low-risk individuals who are awaiting trial in city jails. Another fellow will work to increase the quality, quantity, and timeliness of behavioral health services for justice-involved individuals, ultimately reducing their recidivism rates through increased mental health care access.
As part of the Forward Through Ferguson report’s call for racial equity, criminal justice and court reform were listed as high-priority areas. St. Louis City’s incarceration rates and demographics are emblematic of this need. The city has the highest incarceration rate in the state, with more than 17,000 individuals cycling through the system every year. In January of 2018, there were nearly eight times the number of black male inmates incarcerated in St. Louis City jails than white male inmates (1,064 to 138). According to the Department of Public Safety, in January 2018, the average length of stay for people awaiting felony charges was 236 days. The wait was 250 days for those facing parole violations, and 53 days for those charged only with a misdemeanor. These pretrial wait times can be incredibly destructive for defendants and their families, often leading to job loss and other life-altering issues. A significant number of those held in pretrial detention would be unlikely to face jail time even if they were convicted. The social cost of these extended pretrial incarcerations is substantial, and the monetary costs weigh on the city as well.
According to the National Council of State Legislators, 64 percent of people in local jails identify as having mental health problems. A pilot project in St. Louis City estimated that 87 percent of those incarcerated in the city have a history of substance abuse. These mental and behavioral health issues increase the likelihood of an inmate becoming a repeat offender, yet only one in six jail inmates receive mental health treatment.
As part of the FUSE fellow’s work to increase behavioral health services, they will partner with the Department of Public Safety to help establish a criminal justice coordinating council. The council will focus on ensuring that the city and partner agencies have the tools they need to support groups working with incarcerated individuals with behavioral and mental health issues. The council will facilitate increased data sharing, with the goal of better aligning behavioral health, physical health, and criminal justice agencies to improve outcomes for individuals, reduce the use of criminal justice resources, and improve public safety. Both St. Louis City and County organizations are participating as key stakeholders in this work. Collaborators include Regional Justice Information Service; National Alliance on Mental Illness, St. Louis; the city’s Office of the Mayor; and more.
Separately, another fellow will work directly with the mayor’s office, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, police, and other key stakeholders to create a risk-assessment tool, in order to promote pretrial detention reform. The aim is to lower bail rates, or find alternatives to bail entirely, which will directly reduce jail populations and eliminate unnecessary barriers for reentry, recovery, and reintegration to society after a conviction or an acquittal. Partners for this portion of the project include The Bail Project; the city’s Department of Public Safety; District 22 of the St. Louis City Trial Office (Missouri State Public Defender System); the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court; among others.
“As the Forward Through Ferguson report clearly states, criminal justice reform is key to promoting equity in our region,” said Robert Hughes, president and CEO of Missouri Foundation for Health. “This project is a step by our city leaders to show that they are serious about emphasizing rehabilitation over incarceration and becoming a model for justice system reform.”
FUSE Corp fellows have an average of 20 years of experience and have worked in 20 different cities throughout the country. St. Louis’ fellows are expected to begin their work this October, with the Foundation’s assistance for their placement lasting 12 months. The mayor’s office has pledged its support for the fellows, as well as the longer-term goals of this effort.
ABOUT MISSOURI FOUNDATION FOR HEALTH
Missouri Foundation for Health is a resource for the region, working with communities and nonprofits to generate and accelerate positive changes in health. As a catalyst for change, the Foundation improves the health of Missourians through partnership, experience, knowledge, and funding.