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Grant money targets St. Louis County criminal law reforms

The Macarthur Foundation has noted the willingness of St. Louis County officials to implement criminal law reforms aimed at reducing prison costs and providing behind-bars alternatives to more offenders.

That deep-pocketed private organization spearheaded a program called Safety and Justice Challenge back in 2015. Since then, it has awarded select cities and counties nationally with approximately $150 million to “change the way America thinks about and uses jails.” St. Louis County was an original grant recipient of the initiative.

The efforts made by the county since the program’s inception have been spotlighted and appreciated. In a second go-round of cash infusions, the foundation recently provided an additional $2.25 million to the county to continue with both ongoing and new reform measures. The organization also awarded $50,000 to St. Louis city officials.

What the foundation clearly supports is broad recognition from law enforcers nationally that too many people are being pushed into the formal justice system who are better served through entry into diversionary programs.

Ample evidence exists showing that jails – both in Missouri and nationally – are misused in a fundamentally and unfair way. Legions of individuals languishing in lockups are first-time nonviolent offenders charged with crimes like low-level drug possession offenses. Tellingly, high numbers of them have addiction and related problems that cannot be effectively responded to in penal facilities. Moreover, continuing to house them in jails and prisons ultimately increases the prisoner recidivism rate and costs American taxpayers many billions of dollars annually.

Missouri officials are obviously happy with the new sprinkling of grant money. Among other things, the county intends to continue working on expansion of a pretrial release program for some offenders. It will also continue engaging with community programs to enhance services relevant to treatment, job-training programs and other initiatives.

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