Inmates cannot be held because they can’t pay bail

St. Louis jails cannot hold inmates simply because they can’t pay bail, according to a recent ruling by a federal judge who also granted inmates class action status to sue.

The decision was made by U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig’s. The ruling gives officials a week to hold new detention hearings for current inmates in the city’s two jails.  It also says new arrestees must have a hearing within 48 hours of their arrest. However, inmates can still be held if they are a deemed a danger to the community or if there is no other way to ensure they show up for court. 

As to how many inmates this may affect, it could be hundreds who will be granted new hearings or possibly even released. The judge’s decision comes amid a trend to re-examine bail practices in Missouri and the rest of the nation.

Attorneys for the City are expected to ask for a stay of the judge’s order, arguing that the ruling could allow the release of dangerous individuals who pose a threat to the publics’ safety.

And there has been a push among local advocates to close the city’s workhouse, once called the Medium Security Institution. The inmates had filed a suit claiming St. Louis is violating their constitutional rights for not weighing their ability to pay bonds before incarcerating them.

The inmate’s attorneys argued that inmates have been known to spend days or weeks without being granted a hearing to reduce their bond. During that time the inmates lose jobs, homes and family connections, along with suffering mental and physical problems from being detained in jail.

The judge cited evidence in the record that the duty judge presiding over initial appearances rarely considers information about an arrestee’s financial situation.  In part because the bond commissioner rarely provides it and arrestees have been told not to speak by sheriff’s deputies.

Information gathered by the plaintiffs suggest that 98% of 222 cases they examined there was no information provided by the bond commissioner as to the defendant’s ability to pay.

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