After you are arrested, it doesn’t matter how innocent you are or how this arrest is going to screw up your life. It’s how much do you have to come up with to not be locked in a cage for the next year?
For years, U.S. courts have required those who are arrested buy their freedom. Policies such as cash bail have destroyed the lives of the most vulnerable among us, deepened systemic racism, and forced people into homelessness.
In the 2000s, thousands of people were unlawfully jailed in modern day debtors’ prisons in St. Louis because they could not afford to buy their freedom.
From Ferguson’s jail to the Workhouse in St. Louis City, ArchCity Defenders has challenged the practice of cash bail in the following ways:
Holistic Direct Services
We get to know our clients who have been arrested and held on cash bail. Oftentimes, we meet parents who have lost their home, custody of their children, and have gotten behind as a result of being trapped in jail, awaiting their next court date.
In addition to addressing our clients’ legal issues our social services team can step in to provide wraparound support, like temporary housing, financial assistance, and the means to rebuild.
Systemic Civil Rights Litigation
ACD’s legal challenges to cash bail started in 2015 with two lawsuits that alleged it was unconstitutional for St. Louis towns to hold our clients in jail because they could not afford to buy their freedom. In both cases, the court granted injunctive relief, saying our clients were right—that these towns couldn’t just lock people up until they came up with some money.
Class action cases:
- Powell v. St. Ann (2015)
- Pierce v. Velda City (2015)
- Dixon v. St. Louis City (2019)
Through litigation, community advocacy, and public pressure, the way St. Louis City courts used cash bail changed in 2019. Six months into the Dixon lawsuit, due to concerns about the unconstitutional nature of bail hearings, a federal judge ordered that everyone detained on bond would be granted another hearing. This sent the courts (and opposing counsel) into a tizzy. At the time, hundreds of people were detained, and 171 people received another hearing. Of the 171, 119 people were released. The 119 people released spent a combined 11,147 days (equivalent to 30 years) in jail because their bond had not been set at an affordable amount.
For more on how the Dixon lawsuit, along with community advocates, shifted cash bail, check out the links in the sections below.
Media & Policy Advocacy
In partnership with community members and organizations, our team engages in media and policy advocacy to frame local and national conversations on cash bail. Through centering and amplifying our clients’ voices, we expose injustice, combat misinformation, and advocate for ideas that improve the lives of those harmed by cash bail.
In addition to publishing audio, video, reports, press statements that highlight client voices, we’ve garnered earned media. Some examples include:
In 2019, we published a series of videos titled #endcashbailSTL. Check out the playlist below:
How STL’s Unjust Bail System Fuels the Ongoing Crisis in the Jails
The Status of Bail, Courts, and Cages in St. Louis
Cash Bail Ends in St. Ann; ArchCity Defenders Enters Into Settlement Agreement with the City of St. Ann
Racial Justice Film Series
Time: The Kalief Browder Story, Episode 1
In 2016, ArchCity Defenders and local partners took part in the nationwide Black Mama Bailout. Community volunteers posted bond for women who were greeted with care packages and resources. Hear first-hand from our client Samantha Jenkins, about why this was such a big deal.
In 2017, following a blistering summer heat wave, ArchCity and partners banded together again to raise money to bail people out of the Workhouse jail in July. Temperatures reached above 120 degrees throughout the notoriously hellish jail. Some of the individuals who were released on bail went on to become clients and plaintiffs in the Cody v. St. Louis City class action lawsuit, alleging inhumane conditions at the Workhouse.
Before and during the Dixon lawsuit, ArchCity trained volunteers to sit-in and do court watch of bail hearings. These findings provided quantitative and anecdotal data on the legal and moral failings of these proceedings and raised public awareness about this routine prejudice.
Courtwatch in the City is held by Freedom Community Center, and can be found online here.