A federal judge on Tuesday barred St. Louis, Mo. jails from holding inmates simply because they can’t pay bail. She granted class-action status to inmates who sued, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig’s ruling gives officials a week to hold new detention hearings for current inmates in the city’s two jails and says new arrestees must have a hearing within 48 hours of their arrest. Inmates can still be held, Fleissig wrote, if they are a danger to the community or if there is no other way to ensure they show up for court.
The ruling could affect hundreds of inmates in the city of St. Louis, potentially granting them new hearings, or even releasing them. It comes amid a widespread re-examination of bail practices in Missouri and across the country, and amid local efforts to close the city’s Medium Security Institution. Fleissig ruled in response to a suit filed by inmates who claim St. Louis is violating their constitutional rights by failing to weigh their ability to pay bonds, among other things, before jailing them. Lawyers for the inmates say some go days or weeks without being granted a hearing to reduce their bond. Inmates suffer physical and mental consequences for their prolonged detention in inhumane jail conditions, and lose jobs, homes and family connections, the lawsuit says.