Justice System

Women’s Voices joins Statewide Organizations and Medical Professionals Call on the Missouri Supreme Court to Prevent a COVID-19 Public Health Crisis in Jails by Releasing People

March 26, 2020

From the press release distributed by ArchCity Defenders, “Due to growing concerns of the spread of the Coronavirus, particularly among people who are incarcerated, a coalition of over 30 organizations and medical professionals, sent a letter to the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, the Honorable George W. Draper III, outlining the need for decarceration, and requesting the Supreme Court act timely to order the release of people from jails statewide. The primary letter was enclosed with supporting documents, including a memo written by Dr. Fred Rottnek, Professor and Director of Community Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, which received broad endorsement from the medical and public health community.”

Citing the Supreme Court’s authority under Article V, Section 4 of the Missouri Constitution, signatories requested judges act immediately to release the following groups of inmates during the pendency of the COVID-19 pandemic:

(i) those currently serving sentences in any city or county jail in Missouri pursuant to a conviction for a misdemeanor offense;
(ii) those currently serving sentences in any city or county jail in Missouri pursuant to a conviction for a municipal ordinance violation;
(iii) those confined pretrial on nonviolent misdemeanor, municipal ordinance violation, or nonviolent C, D, and E felony charges;
(iv) those confined on technical probation violations or probation violations based on allegations of a nonviolent felony and
(v) those in high-risk categories likely to face serious illness or death, such as pregnant women, immunocompromised persons, and those over 60 who pose no threat to the public.

Read the full press release here.


Activists Unveil Plan To Close St. Louis’ Workhouse Jail

January 15, 2020 – St. Louis Public Radio

Four activist groups say they have found a way to close the St. Louis jail known as the Workhouse by the end of this year.

The Close the Workhouse campaign unveiled its plan on Tuesday. The groups behind the plan say their research shows all of the people accused of state crimes could be held safely at the downtown Criminal Justice Center.

Read the full article here.

Women’s Voices advocates for clemency for Patty Prewitt

December 14, 2019

Ruth Ehresman, co-president of Women’s Voices, submitted a letter to Gov. Mike Parson on behalf of Women’s Voices requesting clemency for Patty Prewitt.

Learn more about Patty’s case:

Feb. 2, 2019 St. Louis Post-Disptach by Editorial Board

Feb. 2, 2019 St. Louis Post-Dispatch by George Lombardi, former director of the Missouri Department of Corrections

Dec. 13, 2018 Kansas City Star Op-ed by Jane Prewitt Watkins, oldest daughter of Patty Prewitt

Dec. 26, 2017 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Op-ed by Tracy McCreery, MO State Representative, St. Louis

Dec. 30, 2010 St. Louis Post-Disptach Op-ed by John Burnett, MO State Representative, Kansas City and Bill Deeken, MO State Representative, Jefferson City

Learn more about how you can take action here.

Close the Workhouse finds allies in federal judge, Ben & Jerry’s

June 12, 2019

“[Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream,] and his massive team have gotten behind the local St. Louis advocates who are trying to close the Medium Security Institute, known as the Workhouse, that has long been decried for inhumane conditions.”

The same week that Ben & Jerry’s came to town to spread the message about the effort to Close the Workhouse, a federal judge handed down a decision that bars St. Louis jails from holding inmates simply because the cannot pay bail.

Read the article from The St. Louis American here.

Missouri Supreme Court Hears  Debtors’ Prison Case

February 6, 2019

The Missouri Supreme Court is weighing arguments about whether counties can threaten defendants with jail time if defendants fail to pay bills charged for any previous stays in a county jail. The court heard two cases where inmates were assessed “board bills” as court costs for their jail time and rearrested when they were unable to pay. In December, 2018, a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled unanimously that “nothing in (state law) provides specific authorization for the taxation of an unpaid board bill as a court cost.”  Read more

Violence Against Women’s Act Expires

January 3, 2019

After Congress failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act and its funding before the government shutdown, domestic violence advocates said it’s not only a potentially dangerous consequence of political strife in Washington, D.C., but an insulting message to send to women.

The Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, enacted in 1994, provides protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and must be reauthorized every five years by Congress. The act also provides funding for social service agencies and programs that support survivors of such violence, which must be renewed annually.

After Congress failed to pass a budget and parts of the federal government shut down, many of VAWA’s funding sources remain on hold. Although one budget bill extended some funds through early February, U.S. Department of Justice employees who issue those checks are among federal workers furloughed during the shutdown, according to social service providers.  read more

St. Louis County gets $2.25 million, city gets $50,000 to cut jail population, reform justice system

October 24, 2018 – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The grants from the MacArthur Foundation are part of a $148 million national initiative by the foundation and the Urban Institute to reduce misuse and overuse of jails and “change the way America thinks about and uses jails…

In St. Louis, about 17,000 people go through the city jail system each year, according to officials. People detained on misdemeanor offenses stayed in jail an average of 43 days; people detained on federal offenses stayed an average of 203 days. The city’s jail capacity is 1,998 people.

In recent weeks, activists have put pressure on officials to close the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, known informally as the City Workhouse, which holds roughly 550 people, most of whom are awaiting trial.

read more

also see the summary of our Women’s Voices Lunch & Learn about the City Workhouse here.

also read Linda Zazove’s letter to the editor on behalf of Women’s Voices regarding the City Workhouse here

A Victory for Youth in Missouri!

June 1, 2018

Following a unanimous Senate victory in March, Missouri’s “Raise the Age” bill was signed into law!

Missouri has joined 45 other states and “Raised the Age” of juvenile jurisdiction!

Raising the age will improve public safety, save taxpayer dollars, treat families fairly, and get better outcomes for vulnerable young people.

Raising the age puts 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice system, holding them accountable in juvenile court, while still allowing 17-year-olds accused of the most serious offenses to be prosecuted as adults.

eremony October 20, Brendan Roediger, Associate Professor at St. Louis University School of Law, noted that when 3 young law students came to him with the idea of starting a non-profit practice to help the poor, his reaction was skepticism and disbelief that they would be successful.  But not only were they successful, he says they have shown him how to be a better lawyer.   He remarked that at the close of civil suits, lawyers present what is called a “prayer for relief,” but Michael-John Voss and Thomas Harvey do more, they “get into the lives of the people they represent.” The clients of ArchCity need relief not only from the injustice in the municipal justice system but relief from poverty. Kayla Reed an activist with Organization for Black Struggle agreed that Harvey and Voss do more than just defend their clients – “they show up, they listen, they learn, and they educate.” In accepting the award, Thomas Harvey urged us to action saying that lawyers are only a tool in the process; we all need to work as a community to achieve justice.

Representing Women’s Voices at the ceremony:  Judy Arnold, Becky Clausen, Mary Clemons, Allison Hile, Deb Lavender, Nancy Price and Stephanie Sigala.

Women’s Voices on the Death Penalty

Members of Women’s Voices voted unanimously in March 2007 to endorse a resolution calling for a moratorium on death penalty executions in the state of Missouri.