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Advocates blast St. Louis Circuit Court's pretrial supervision.

Byline: Nicholas Phillips

Multiple legal entities in St. Louis have sent a letter to the St. Louis Circuit Court urging it to reform or cancel a service contract that they allege allows a private pretrial-supervision company "to effectively extort money from poor St. Louis residents."

That company, Eastern Missouri Alternative Sentencing Services, is based in St. Charles County. It provides the 22nd Circuit with bond supervision, GPS monitoring and alcohol-tracking devices on pretrial court-ordered supervision, in addition to other services.

The company's CEO and president, Michael L. Smith, did not respond to interview requests.

The letter is dated Jan. 10 and was signed by St. Louis Public Defender Mary Fox, Blake Strode of ArchCity Defenders, Robin Steinberg of The Bail Project, Jeffrey Mittman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, Amy Breihan of the Macarthur Justice Center and J. Danielle Carr of the Mound City Bar Association.

The signatories complain that a criminal defendant must pay for the supervision, not the court, thus "presumptively innocent individuals are essentially shackled, often unconstitutionally, by the cost and burdens of private supervision, and their inability to afford such costs has resulted in re-incarceration."

Thom Gross, spokesman for the St. Louis Circuit Court, said, "The court will take the letter under consideration."

The signatories assert in the letter that EMASS costs "can be prohibitively expensive:" GPS monitoring and house-arrest electronic monitoring costs $50 for installation and $10 per day; pretrial check-ins cost $30 per month; and alcohol monitoring costs $75 for installation and $15 per day. In addition, they claim, the judges make no inquiry about a defendant's ability to pay for supervision.

The signatories claim that the "vast majority" of EMASS referees are indigent. While the service contract allows the circuit judges to arrange for EMASS to monitor a limited number of indigent defendants at no charge, the signatories say they are unaware of any judge doing so.

The signatories further claim that even when an supervised individual's only noncompliance is the failure to pay EMASS fees, EMASS reports that the person is in violation without specifying the reason.

The signatories recommend that to "mitigate some of the most egregious harms," the court should inquire about a defendant's ability to pay for supervision and waive fees if the defendant cannot pay them. They also want the court to stop the practice of incarceration for failure to pay EMASS fees and to require that EMASS specify to the court when noncompliance with conditions of release is solely due to inability to pay EMASS fees.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner was not a signatory to the letter, but she said in a written statement that bail reform is "necessary" and should include making sure pretrial defendants "are not being penalized simply because they cannot pay" for supervision. The decision on how to monitor defendants in nonviolent, lower-level type cases, Gardner said, should be made on a case-by-case basis.

"There are many other proven ways being utilized across the country to ensure that defendants appear in court for scheduled hearings that don't include putting additional hardships on people," Gardner said.

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Publication:Missouri Lawyers Media
Geographic Code:1U4MO
Date:Jan 29, 2019
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