When St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch told a local radio station that he ended cash bail for misdemeanor cases, we knew it wasn’t true.
In fact, he told several news organizations the same thing.
"There's nobody in St. Louis County in jail being held on a misdemeanor because they can’t make bond," he said in an interview with a local newspaper in July. "Because there is no bond. Those things just don’t exist."
But they do, and we have the data to prove it.
To be exact, in 2017, 419 people faced cash bail for misdemeanors, including 65 people receiving cash bail for speeding offenses. And since 2012, more than 2,700 people faced cash bail for misdemeanors. If we look at just the offenses where misdemeanors were the gravest charge, we know that one in every seven people accused in St. Louis County faced cash bail.
That’s a lot more than none.
When asked about our analysis, McCulloch criticized our efforts, but he didn’t refute the facts. That’s why we created an interactive website tool on our website, PickYourPA.org, that lets voters know what’s happening in their jail before they vote for a St. Louis County prosecuting attorney candidate.
Our #PickYourPA campaign is part of ACLU National’s Smart Justice campaign that aims to reduce mass incarceration in the U.S. by 50 percent. Reducing the number of people in jails and prisons is especially important in Missouri, which ranks eighth in the nation when it comes to how many of its citizens are behind bars.
To reduce the number of people in jails and prisons, we need prosecutors who are committed to doing the same. It’s not enough to just talk the talk. We need prosecutors to walk the walk, too, and when they don’t, we’ll be there to set the record straight.
We also need prosecutors who treat drug addiction as a disease, not a crime. Prosecutors who recognize that the criminal justice system is not equipped to handle the social and health issues that land many people in prison and jail and who can use their discretion to divert drug offenders to programs that prioritize rehabilitation.
After getting the facts from another open records request, we let voters know that contrary to what McCulloch has said, he is not using his pre-charge, alternative drug court program effectively. Since the program began in 2014, only 99 people have been enrolled. Only 36 people have completed it. That averages nine people per year.
He’s not doing much better with the alternative mental health and veterans courts. In 2017, only 75 people were in enrolled in each program.
The truth shows that we must insist on government transparency. It also demonstrates why we must hold our elected officials accountable. It’s easy to claim to be an ally of criminal justice reform, but the only way to achieve progress is to make sure the follow-through is there.
Prosecutors like McCulloch are the most influential actors in the criminal justice system. Their decisions are a major driver of mass incarceration and racial disparities in our criminal justice system. While Blacks are only 24 percent of St. Louis County’s population, they make up 67 percent of the jail population.
Using cash bail impacts people unequally based on wealth and race. People of color are already over-policed and arrested more than their white counterparts. That’s why we invested time and money in the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney race, including the launch of a radio ad campaign, so people in St. Louis County can learn why no matter the outcome of this race, we must reduce our use of cash bail.
At www.PickYourPA.org, you can find the data analysis tool as well as read the questionnaires answered by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Democratic candidates Bob McCulloch and Wesley Bell. Regardless of who wins the primary tomorrow, we will continue working alongside our partners in the community to make sure the prosecuting attorney walks the walk on eliminating cash bail.
Our work in St. Louis County is one piece of the ACLU’s larger effort to educate voters across the country about the power of prosecutors and how they can hold them accountable. Voters deserve to know what their elected prosecuting attorney is doing in their community.