To learn more about our proposed solutions to the bench warrant system, read and download our full "Transforming St. Louis County's Racist Municipal Courts" report here.
The Problem with Bench Warrants
In the St. Louis City and County, bench warrants are issued when a person is unable to pay a municipal fine and fails to appear in court. If caught with an outstanding bench warrant, a person is immediately detained and can be jailed for days or even weeks at a time as a result of a traffic or other minor, nonviolent offense. As of July 2013, there were 286,768 outstanding warrants for municipal offenses in the City of St. Louis, out of a total population of approximately 318,000 people. These warrants are the result of a vicious cycle of criminalization that targets low-income people of color, who are not only less likely to have money to pay off minor offenses to begin with, but are less likely to the have time and resources to attend their court dates, less likely to have stable jobs that would allow them to pay their fines, and less likely to have access to proper legal representation.
- Abolishing municipal courts
- Abolishing jail time as a punishment for non-violent municipal ordinance violations
- Assessing fines for non-violent offenses in proportion to income
- Enforcing a cap such that the dollar amount of municipal revenue generated from traffic tickets and fines does not exceed five times the number of residents, or $5 per resident
- Offering timebanking, a non-monetized option similar to community service, for people to pay off their municipal ordinance violation fines
- Eliminating the "failure to appear" charge
- Providing public defenders to indigent people
- Eliminating the automatic "failure to appear license suspension" with the Department of Revenue for anything that occurs afar someone pleads guilty or is found guilty
- Creating accountability mechanisms to monitor which officers and municipalities are engaging in racial profiling