FOREST PARK— Moving St. Louis in a more harmonious direction requires hard work from the entire St. Louis region. During a panel discussion Thursday at the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis residents had the chance to talk with local prosecutors who pledged their help to get us closer to that goal.
Presented by Focus St. Louis and Forward Through Ferguson, the public safety forum gave individuals an opportunity to lead the conversation with tough questions for the panelists.
The panelists included Wesley Bell, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney; Kim Gardner, St. Louis City Circuit Attorney; Jeff Jenson, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri; and Tim Lohmar, Prosecuting Attorney for of St. Charles County.
Topics discussed were crime, gun violence, mental health and the closing of the medium security institution commonly known as “the Workhouse.”
Each prosecutor had their suggestions to solve some of the most strenuous challenges facing the city, however they all agreed that crime is a public safety issue that must be tackled with urgency and discretion.
Newly-elected prosecutor Wesley Bell said, “We have to start having an honest conversation about how we approach the prosecution process and start addressing the root causes of crime by looking through a social and economic lens and compare it to how it works for those with money and individuals who don’t have money.”
Wesley Bell recently appeared on MetroSTL.com’s “The Jaco Report” where we discussed this issue in-depth. Watch Charles Jaco’s full interview here.
Bell said he wants to add diversion programs and drug treatment programs to address the causes of crime. He plans to partner with Affinia Healthcare and Places for People, which both specialize in mental health outreach in underserved communities.
Lohmar said the St. Charles County region has social and economic barriers and lacks mental health resources. He also said mental health is a huge black hole in the criminal justice system.
However, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner says her office is addressing mental health issues by bringing in counselors to her office. “I would like to see a prosecutor’s office that is staffed as a social service office and a public health office,” she said.
But mental health was just one of the many issues discussed by the prosecutors at Thursday’s event. Other issues included so-called Brady lists and campaigns to end the cash bail system and to close the Workhouse in St. Louis City.
Behind the Brady List
A Brady list is a list of police officers whose honesty and truthfulness has come under question by prosecutors based on past misdeeds. The Brady list is named for a 1963 Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to provide material evidence favorable to the defense. Last year, Gardner created such a list of 28 police officers her office would no longer accept cases from.
Gardner said she is under a strict temporary restraining order and cannot give specifics about the list, however she was able to give a general overview.
“As a prosecutor of the city of St. Louis, I have the duty to uphold [and] to defend the integrity of the criminal justice system,” said Gardner. She finished with, “The officers on the list’s credibility is a non-negotiable factor, that’s my job as a prosecutor. A police officer is no different than a non-credible witness.”
Cash Bail Requirements and the Close the Workhouse Campaign
Bell said he wants to end so-called debtors’ prisons and end what he described as prosecuting poverty. He said the struggle of some people trying to make ends meet must be taken into consideration. He also said very passionately that he believes the Workhouse needs to be closed.
“It is a horrible place. That building needs to be shut down,” Bell said.
Despite the statements by Bell and other prosecutors, Montague Simmons of the Close the Workhouse Campaign said he felt the panel discussion was not as interactive as he had hoped it would be.
“They could have gone deeper on issues like cash bail and talked more about the public defender department, which is dramatically underfunded in regard to the type of work they are doing,” said Simmons.
Gardner said while she was in agreement with Bell on the conditions at the Workhouse, she said that her office is not responsible for issues at the city jail.
“I’m not the facility manager of the Workhouse; you need to talk to the mayor who is over the workhouse,” Gardner said.