January 08, 2020 Event Notes

SNA Hosted Better Understanding Event

Special thanks to Debbie Allen for putting together the panel and facilitating the discussion. Thank you to each member of this impressive panel--Debbie Allen, Mike Mullen, Steven Ohmer and Mike Whittier. The live audience was enthusiastic and energetic and comments to our Association have been very positive. Our notes from this presentation are now being provided to our member and to the broader public. 

Topic: Mayor's initiative for Sustained Criminal Justice Reform with focus on juveniles in the City

4-Person Panel

Debbie Allen, Executive Advisor to the Mayor and Interim Executive Director of the City's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC)

the rationale and vision of the Mayor's CJCC initiative

Michael Mullen, 22nd Circuit Court Judge & Chair of the City's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council

Council composition, mission and goals

Steven Ohmer, 22nd Circuit Court Judge and Criminal Justice Coordinating Council's -- Public Health Committee Member

the juvenile justice system and available court diversion options

Mike Whittier, Strategist - Justice and Health Equity, St. Louis Integrated Health Network and Criminal Justice Coordinating Council's -- Alternative to Incarceration Committee

community's response to criminally involved juvenile population prevention/diversion efforts occurring in the City outcomes and best practice

Ms. Allen

Mayor was at a national conference and heard about a council which brings together the criminal justice agencies in a formal way to work together, communicate together and coordinate together on a shared vision. Would be work at the grass roots level. Brings people together to work on the initiatives and priorities of this City.

The criminal justice system here in the City is comprised of different interests--you have federal, state, and city interests and no one of those interests can represent each other's interests. The state can't represent the city, the city can't represent the federal. That's the reason the Mayor wanted a council because through a council, established by ordinance (the alders cast a unanimous vote to create the state's first Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and even in the region) it allows a legal independent body corporate. These interests can come together and make formal agreements and come together and agree and actually get something done. No one agency in the whole system is the problem and no one agency is the solution. You have to come together and reach solutions.

There were two questions to the Mayor--one about the recidivism rate and the other about the reason some people were released and others were not. Think about the jail population. There are many drivers that drive someone into the criminal justice system

  • lack of resources
  • lack of treatment
  • lack of employment
  • inefficient, underperforming criminal justice system
  • addiction
  • lack of education

All of these drivers drive one into the system and when the system is fragmented and they're not talking to each other, then people get lost in the system and it actually drives them further into the system.

The Council allows us to look at what ways the entire system can work together more efficiently so we don't have people sitting in the jail for weeks unnecessarily or we have people coming back into the system when we need to spend the dollars into the community so the person does not come back. Here's a stat for you--nationally 60-70% of the people who are sitting in your jail have been assessed to have serious mental illness and/or co-occurring substance use (opioid). These people are there because of the drivers (above)...there is no safety net.

The goal is what ways can we prevent that initial contact with criminal justice (law enforcement) and/or prevent further penetration into the criminal justice system.

The vision is to coordinate communications to achieve a fair, equitable criminal justice system along the lines of race, gender, geography and socio-economic status.

We have been operating for a year now. The Council legislation was approved in July 2019. Before the Fall of 2019, citations by police officers were paper and processed in a paper system. Citations were processed by the Circuit Attorney's office and an actual box moved this paper to municipal courts. The data was entered twice--once at the Circuit Attorney's Office and again at municipal court. This was replaced with E-citations and no more box delivery. We have to work for cost savings...right now it costs $100/day for each person in the jail....give me $50/day of that and it will be reinvested into those resources that really matter.

We got a $1 million grant from the Department of Justice that will put data in different systems (criminal justice in the different systems and public health) into one system. We will be the second city in the country to do this. Nod to Director of the City Department of Health--Dr. Frederick Echols. We can then analyze this data. We will know the recidivism rate that we don't know because the data is not together. We will know what the diagnosis is so treatment programs can be developed and made available.

Public is welcome to attend their meetings...next one is February 7. 

Circuit Court--"Local Courts" Explanation

Interruption to explain Circuit Courts, known as "Local Courts" that are part of the Missouri Courts (the judicial branch of our state government). The City of St Louis is its own county and the county functions are part of state government. Our panel consisted of 1 City Staff (Ms. Allen), 2 Circuit Court (state 22nd Circuit Court Judges Mike Mullen and Steven Ohmer) and a NGO providing services (Mike Whittier).

Judge Mike Mullen

Judge Mullen has been a judge for 20 years & 18 months ago started chairing CJCC. In 2015, he brought together the heads of various agencies came up with their own CJCC because all these agencies were working in their own silo and were wasting resources. It was running pretty well. With the election, CJCC members changed. Brand new people wanted to settle in and would get around later to the CJCC so things halted.

Mayor Krewson got the funding for CJCC, brought Debbie on as a fellow initially and now we meet to get heads of agencies together to listen to problems and provide possible solutions.

Members on the council:

  • circuit attorney
  • circuit court administrator
  • police chief
  • municipal court judge
  • municipal court clerk
  • sheriff
  • public defender
  • corrections commissioner
  • Probation & parole administrator
  • one judge from Circuit Court
  • 2 alternatives to incarceration representatives with priorities aligned with CJCC

The heads come themselves and listen to problems. There are 3 committees--each with 15-20 people (1) Public Health (2) Information Sharing, and (3) Alternatives to Incarceration. Each one of these committees meets on their own time and report once a month in the CJCC monthly meeting. There are concrete things that happen. There was skepticism at the beginning but now they see the value.

Debbie already mentioned the E-Citations (tickets). The Information Sharing Committee had a problem where Highway Patrol would run a request for outstanding warrants and not all warrants were showing up. Example: City warrants were not making their way into the Highway Patrol System. Found the problem and fixed it.

Another is someone's case is dismissed or someone is taken into custody. And the person gets lost in the existing system...system has to show who is in charge of that person at any point in time. Perhaps medical treatment was needed and person was transported to hospital. Or person was bonded out. The person needs to be held no longer than they should be. It protects the City from liability and money paid out for that is our money--tax dollars.

CJCC wanted to bring in the juvenile system but felt it was just too much to take on right now.

Judge Ohmer

Judge Omer has been serving in the Juvenile Justice since Jan 2019--has been a prosecutor , practiced law, and been a judge. It is a very challenging. These kids are different...not all. The drivers for juveniles in the criminal justice system are mental health and drugs.

What has surprised me has been the newborn babies that the Juvenile Court is involved with every month. 25 every month...250-300 a year. Not all of these kids come into care. How we get involved is the hospital calls...the child is born, the child is drug exposed, they are not going to release the child to mom or dad or relative and they are asking us to get involved. A lot of these are handled informally through our staff or services so they don't come into the system. We have to make sure these kids are protected--perhaps placed with a relative or some other placement. Or they do sometimes come through the Court with a an order to place with a relative or elsewhere and the process begins. I saw a need if the parents are around and generally have serious drug/mental illness/both. With these care and protection cases, our goal is to reunify the kids with parents. Parents appear before me regularly, have to go through treatment, psychiatric exam, Parents receive psych, treatment, get housing, get employment, etc. Services to give these kids a chance. Cry out for a Treatment Court going again in juvenile. Have a 3-year grant starting next week to provide a Treatment Court. Child in care Mom & dad enter a required intensive treatment program for 15 to 24 months to get cleaned up so the family can be reunited. If this doesn't happen, kids remain in care without any permanency--files of kids of  5-6 years old who have been in care all that time--these kids deserve a chance and . If it doesn't happen with a required 15 to 24 months, the court can move faster in a different direction and establish permanent guardianship or terminate parental rights & go for adoption. Our real goal is to reunify & that's what is happening daily.

Delinquency--the "criminal aspect" although it's not called that. Two things can happen. (1) Juveniles can be certified as an adult by me using statutory requirements and then juvenile goes downtown and stands trial as an adult. Recent example is Officer Harper who was killed. The two juveniles were certified as adults and sent downtown where they enter the 22nd Circuit Court system. (2) Juvenile is not certified as an adult, then Judge Ohmer decides what happens. There are no juries in juvenile court; Judge Omer determines guilt. Then a disposition hearing (1) Intensive or more informal court supervision or (2) have the youth placed in the (Missouri) Division of Youth Services in a secure facility around the state or the Hogan Street Regional Youth Center here in the City. The kids go there, finish their high school. I toured Hogan and one kid there has completed 2 years of college and is getting out at 21 when he was released last summer (can't be held any longer than 21) and he was going to be going to Missouri State. What has changed through the years is there used to be 100 in detention. We've had 12-19 in detention now so it's way down. We use diversion just like with Care & Protection to try to steer kids out of the system and try to address the problem. These are more like status offenses--not going to school, loitering, petty shoplifting, maybe fighting. Most of those cases I never see. I see the ones in detention because are serious.

Guns. Try to be proactive with gun cases. Juveniles can carry guns in Missouri legally. Makes it hard for the police. Try to get the gun informally.

If the offense is robbery,carjacking, murders, juveniles will go to secure detention. Youngest kid I have is a 13 year old who did a carjacking. These kids in detention stay under my supervision. It's very challenging. The new Treatment Court has dual aspect of mental health along with drugs.

Treatment court is just starting. Grant for 3 years. Will address mental health and drug addiction. What I see with these kids with serious offenses...everyone of them self medicate with marijuana. They see nothing wrong. Don't go to school. Don't work. Don't do anything. Then suddenly it's let's get a gun and do a carjacking. It's changed. It's a bit scary. I see this every day. Not for him to decide but marijuana being made legal may have a bad impact on these kids. How do they get it? How do they pay for it? Lawyers make sure I never ask these questions. Doesn't factor in my decision but it's always there.

I know people get upset about police arresting a juvenile and then they're back on the street. But the serious offenses are not those. Look at the numbers, it's really very low and I've been surprised because 100-125 in detention. It's a challenge but we want to try and give these kids a chance and try to figure out what to do.

Kid was playing football who had a chance to be a Division 1 football player; got mixed up with some stuff and have him under probation and control. He's doing okay but not great. Try to give a kid like that a chance and reach him. Lots of resources in Juvenile Court and everyone works very hard to give these kids a chance. That's the kind of thing so it's easy to say throw them in a jail but the reality is they don't stay long and they are back. We try to turn them in a different direction.

Mike Whittier

I turn 30 in less than 20 days so I can't match decades of experience. Quick story...there are stories behind the crimes. Systems ripple into the community. The young man the judge referred to had his mom shot right in front of him; the caretaker molested his younger brother. So at 15 he was fending for himself for survival of himself and his younger brother. Community full of drugs and crime and that's what you lean toward and are influenced by.

I work for Integrated Health Network. We are a healthcare intermediary for the healthcare stakeholders in the state to improve those who are medically underserved. That's with the hospitals, medical centers. I work specifically with ages 17-26. These are consequences of systems that have not worked well. The fix is not overnight. There are decades of no investments. Health Department and Human Services...we have a problem with housing, with STDs, with drugs, with violence. All these things make up Public Safety. Law enforcement helps create a safe environment but they are not the only system that creates a safe community. When someone overdoses on drugs, it's EMS who responds. So when we talk about these issues, they are all intertwined and these systems must work together.

The work I am doing specifically and we are helping to navigate them out of the criminal justice system and to reduce the obstacles to housing, to employment, to access to other services. What we found is 3% are back in jail nationally. In the state for prison, it's 50%.

If you have a medical emergency and go to the emergency room, if 50% of you had to return, that would be a crisis. This is a crisis. We are working diligently to reduce crime. Only 20% is doctor's care; the other 80% is your access to housing, employment, education, etc. Doing this work since 2016 on a grant. Working to sustain the program because it works. The 200 individuals under our grant because of the success. Cost savings, 200 individuals, saved City $1.3 million of your money. It's important that the person you send to jail and pay for, we have programs that provides that person with economic viability and that earned money goes back into the community.

Recently we've been in the news with the 6th District police. IHN volunteers were part of a volunteer group that responded to calls to "heal the community from the inside out". This Mobile Crisis Prevention Team has the mission to connect as many people as possible with the services they need. When people coming into jails we want them to have access to doctors and insurance. Break down the silos and have access to these services so we can all reap the benefits. Have about 10,000 non profits here in St Louis and we need to change policies. Raise awareness and integrate into systems so we can have regional options.

Question & Answer Session

Q. For metal health, there is a shortage of beds.

A. Starting in the early 2000s, there has been a decrease in psych beds. Best outcomes happen as outpatient but there has to be access and IHN works to reduce barriers to access to this outpatient treatment. It's a national problem and not just here in St. Louis. We also are working to gather the data and then analyze it so when we ask for local money we are working from data.

Q. 5-5.6 million for Cure Violence. How well does this integrate with CJCC?

A. Cure Violence has been to CJCC and is moving forward. Still requires background services with coordinated services in the region. Critical to build this infrastructure. Need to know that needed services are in the right place and we'll let data drive where services are needed.

Q Deficit f clinicians & social workers?

A. Definite deficit as well as needing data for where they are needed. Need to be able to navigate from ER's to community providers.

Q Are you addressing human trafficking?

A. Right now it is not a priority but it is a topic that needs to be addressed and not there yet at CJCC. There are a number of kids under Care & Protection and a lot go into foster care.

Q How long do juveniles stay in jail?

A. Average is 3-4 months. It takes a while to take the depositions and determine how the juvenile will be charged, get a public defender, discover process...it all takes time. Try to move it along as quickly as possible.

Q. When are they given an assessment?

A. Adult assessment is at jail entry. This will be tended to at jail but they will need continuity of care no matter where they are in the community. Definitely gaps and this drives that population back into the system. Juveniles have it all taken care of.n

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