minutia press.

I have recently had more experience with the justice system in the city of St Louis than I ever hope to have again. This foray involves a friend of mine, who found himself in jail after not paying some traffic tickets. This guy ends up in jail on Friday, and we find out he's in there on Sunday. Monday we get a lawyer involved to help him out. This lawyer has extensive experience dealing with the justice system in the city.

Monday the lawyer thought he had done everything to get the guy out. He reduced the guy's bond to a summons, and that should have triggered the guy's release. Nobody down there could confirm that of course, but when the wasn't free on Tuesday, we discovered there were other charges of which we were unaware, that the city "discovered" and therefore were holding him again. Tuesday the lawyer went down to deal with that, so we thought he'd get out Tuesday, maybe Wednesday. Wednesday morning he's still not out. We're told to wait until Wednesday afternoon. But still no dice. The lawyer says he's done all he can.

Thursday, we go down to figure this out. We start in the Marshal's office, because she is supposedly the one who can tell us why this guy is still in jail. It took about 5 minutes for her to pay some attention to us, but once she did, she was obviously going to be of no help. She explained to us that he was on the "confined" docket but didn't bother to explain what that meant or why he was being held. This woman keeps telling me that I'm listening and I just don't understand, but I have these documents from a judge that demanded my friend's relase "immediately" and "forthwith". I asked her why the judge's orders weren't followed for 2 days, but she told me I just didn't understand. But then somehow she became nice (bipolar nice), and offered to fax our docuoments to the jail to get him out in an hour or so.

We went back to the jail to finish up this deal, which involved dealing with someone in the "prisoner management" section. She saw me right away, and spent 20 minutes confirming my story (even though I had signed documents). She then had the computer print up a document pertinent to this guy's release. All she had to do was give me the yellow "carbon copy" of the form, and we were done. But she told me to wait and she'd be right back. 30 minutes later she was still gone, but it turned out she went "on break". She came back and gave me form, and the guy was released some 3 hours later.

In the story above, I have made many elements sound much nicer than they were. I am disgusted at the way these people -- ostensibly civil servants -- treat people who come in to help out somebody in need. At the end of my visit, I asked the policewoman on guard at the reception desk to hand a note to my friend, so he'd know his girlfriend was coming to pick him up. She laughed and told me she doesn't do that sort of thing. The guard woman next to her then noticed a guy walking around us and her desk, heading into the back without signing in. She commented to her colleague "Who does that guy think he his? He's walking in like he owns the place". I turned to her and said "Actually, we do own this place. We are the taxpayers."


One of my goals in life is to have as little to do with the criminal justice system as possible. Even something as minor as a traffic citation seems like it can easily spiral into something else. And our jails are, in many ways, much worse punishment than we intend. It's easy to sit back and tell yourself "I'm not a criminal so I don't have to worry about things like this," but then something unexpected like this pops up.

I feel for your friend and hope his experience wasn't particularly unpleasant (obviously, being in jail for nearly a week is on its face somewhat unpleasant).

Posted by: david at August 28, 2006 9:07 PM

Thanks David. I agree about staying clear of those places. The chances of them doing the right thing are downright small.

Posted by: rkc at August 31, 2006 9:23 PM