Freed from jail, trapped by monitoring fees

Freed from jail, trapped by monitoring fees

DOWNTOWN — Local legal organizations such as the Arch City Defenders, the St. Louis Public Defender’s Office, The Bail Project and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri co-signed a letter to the 22nd Judicial Circuit, describing what they call the unfairness of forcing those who have been arrested and then released on bail to use a private pretrial service and electronic monitoring company.

Jocelyn Garner was ordered by a St. Louis court to sign-up with Eastern Missouri Alternative Sentencing Services (EMASS) after she was released from the Medium Security Institution known as “the Workhouse.”

“I haven’t been convicted of anything. I’m not on probation. I’m not on parole, but yet I’m paying fees just to stay free. I’m paying $30 a month to keep my freedom,” Garner said.

The 22nd Judicial Circuit has a contract with EMASS, which monitorsbond supervision, GPS monitoring and alcohol tracking devices for individuals on pretrial court-ordered supervision.

The circuit judges allow those who wear the device to be released from jail before trial. They have to pay significant fees to this private company in order to remain free, and risk re-incarceration if they find themselves unable to pay.

According to the joint letter, pretrial supervision costs can be prohibitively expensive. The letter outlines some of the fees: check-ins cost $30 per month, while alcohol monitoring costs an initial $525 immediately upon release from jail plus a $75 installation fee and $15 charge per day.

Arch City Defenders and The Bail Project claim this practice extorts money from poor St. Louis residents and burdens them with the cost of private supervision. The inability of clients to afford such costs has resulted in re-incarceration.

Gerald Wortham was released from the Workhouse on bond, court ordered to sign up for EMASS, and required to pay $300 to sign up for the monitoring services. If Wortham couldn’t make the payment, he would be in violation of the judge’s order and a warrant would be issued for his arrest.

“I feel like they are setting people up to go back to jail just because of you being poor or less fortunate than others, you don’t have another way to keep yourself out of jail, basically. That’s what EMASS is doing,” Wortham said.

Michael Milton of The Bail Project said he noticed his clients’ freedom comes with a cost, one that is very expensive and adds more strife to their everyday priorities.

“The only thing that’s stopping them from returning to their families, jobs and homes is the ability to pay for their freedom. Their rights as an American [are] dependent on a bank account and their race,” Milton said.

According to Milton, making poor people pay for their freedom exposes the unconstitutional practices of the 22nd Judicial Circuit.

Milton said judges are ordering more electronic surveillance for those released on bail because of negative perceptions of those who are in the pretrial phase.

“They don’t view these people as innocent but dangerous and this is a problem. Our system needs to see them as people with constitutional rights,” Milton said.