St. Louis city and county to release more than 140 inmates amid virus concerns

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According to St.Louis Post Dispatch

CLAYTON — Authorities in St. Louis and St. Louis County were finalizing plans Wednesday to immediately release more than 140 inmates from city and county jails out of concern to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

The St. Charles County jail has also seen a dramatic drop in population in recent days.

In St. Louis County, Sam Alton, chief of staff to Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell, said Wednesday that his office was working with the courts, jail staff and public defenders’ offices to release more than 100 inmates from the county Justice Center in Clayton. Doug Moore, a spokesman for County Executive Sam Page, said 15 were being released Wednesday and another 70 over a few days. The jail was holding about 840 inmates, down about 9% from late January.

In St. Louis, Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner and District Defender Matthew Mahaffey said in a joint statement Wednesday they identified 56 inmates being held with “low-level offenses or significant health issues” who could be released immediately to help “prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the community inside of jails, to court personnel and the greater community.”

Mahaffey said his office was filing motions to release or lower bail for about 190 other cases. According to city data, the population of the city’s two jails has declined 13 percent since March 1, to 786 total inmates from 902. The St. Charles County jail also reduced its population by about 20% in the past week, to 317 inmates, as prosecutors, judges and public defenders reviewed cases to try to remove people from jail during the crisis.

As Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reported on Saturday, officials from Page’s office, circuit court judges, Bell and others have been meeting to figure out a safe way to reduce the jail population further because experts believe jails maintain a high risk of spreading COVID-19, both to inmates and the community as staff, nurses and other people come and go.

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