CLAYTON • St. Louis County is one of 20 local governments from across the country being awarded a $150,000 MacArthur Foundation grant to create a plan to reform its jail system.
If selected as one of the 10 most worthwhile proposals, the county would then receive from $500,000 to $2 million annually to implement changes, starting in 2016 and lasting as long as five years.
As part of the initial grant, St. Louis County, which is working with the University of Missouri-St. Louis on the project, will have access to national criminal justice leaders to draft its proposal.
Nearly 200 governments from 45 states submitted applications for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge to reduce the number of people in local jails.
A proposal by the city of St. Louis, with Washington University and St. Louis University, didn’t make the cut.
St. Louis County has been under a national spotlight since the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson brought attention to law enforcement in suburban African-American neighborhoods.
Nasser Arshadi, vice provost for research at UMSL, said St. Louis County’s application played up the need for standardization among 90 municipalities, 62 police departments and 32 jails.
“There has been a lot of soul-searching going on in our region and other places about what can be done,” he said. “There is pent-up demand in the region for justice reform.”
More specifically, Frank Vatterott, a judge in Overland involved with the county’s application, said proposed changes include uniform fines, bail amounts and community service alternatives in lieu of jail time.
“There is a lot of unnecessary incarceration, which was pointed out in the Ferguson shooting, for minor stuff,” he said.
Laurie Garduque, director of justice reform at the MacArthur Foundation, said local jails often are overlooked for change even though 12 million people are admitted to jails nationally each year at an estimated cost of $22 billion. She said the foundation is interested in the issue because there has been a fourfold increase in the number of people incarcerated since the 1970s.
“Even a day in jail can jeopardize future life,” she said.
She said proposals selected for implementation will address a variety of issues, from affordable bail amounts to reasonable jail time to alternatives for people with mental health and substance abuse problems.