From the court room to the community, ArchCity Defenders is committed to combatting the criminalization of poverty and state violence against the poor and people of color.
In St. Louis, we know all too well the consequences of the money bail system, debtors’ prisons, municipal courts, and the criminalization of poverty in general. Being kept in cage solely because you do not have the cash to buy your freedom can lead to job loss, eviction, family separation, and homelessness.
Because of this, ArchCity Defenders and St. Louis Action Council have launched #BlackMamaBailoutSTL as a regional initiative to center the conversation on people and families, especially children, as the true victims of this predatory system.
Visit http://tiny.cc/blackmamabailoutstl for more information.
Alongside protecting the individual, ArchCity Defenders is interested in encouraging systemic reform in Missouri’s state and St. Louis County’s municipal legal systems. Missouri’s municipal courts are frequently engaged in unconstitutional behavior, ranging from closing the courts to refusing to hold an indigency hearing to creating debtors prisons by sending people to jail for inability to pay fines. These ongoing violations of the most fundamental guarantees of the Constitution are the product of a disordered, fragmented, and inefficient approach to criminal justice in St. Louis County.
Missouri Supreme Court Rule 37:
ArchCity Defenders and the Clinical Law Offices of St. Louis University School of law, wrote a letter to the Missouri Supreme Court requesting that it exercise its superintending authority and convene a special rules committee to recommend appropriate amendments to Rule 37, with the objective of ensuring the fair and uniform administration of justice in municipal courts. As of 2013, according to the Office of the State Court Administrator, there were a total of 411,948 outstanding arrest warrants for violations of civil ordinances in St. Louis County, representing one warrant for every two adults in St. Louis County and more that 35% of the total outstanding arrest warrants in the State of Missouri. The letter pointed out that “this is nine times the number of arrest warrants outstanding in the City of Chicago.” This letter followed up a more detailed letter with the proposed Rule amendments sent in September.
After notification from the Clinical Law Offices of St. Louis University School of Law and ArchCity Defenders, as well as an investigation by an Open Courts Committee, the Honorable Maura B. McShane, the Presiding Judge of St. Louis County, wrote a letter with an attached voluntary order, requiring the courts to be open for everyone. Judge McShane has asked that the courts remove statements from their website prohibiting children or persons other than the defendant from entering the courtroom, and, as a constitutional right, courts must be open to the public. Read our letter in response here.
“[It is] alleged that the general public is being denied the Constitutional right of access to many of the municipal courts in St. Louis County. As you are aware access to courts is a Constitutional right granted to the general public through…the Missouri Constitution.”
– Judge Maura B. McShane