The St. Louis County jail—like jails across the country—is full. County officials recognize that it doesn’t need to be. About 92 percent of the jail population is on pretrial detention or awaiting a hearing on a probation violation. The county has identified a groundbreaking approach to cut the number of inmates in the county jail by 15-19 percent while improving public safety. Instead of sitting in jail, these people will be productive members of the community.

The key elements of this unique approach include:​

  • Expanding a pretrial release program for carefully screened individuals;
  • Implementing a speedy hearing process for those with technical probation violations; and,
  • Helping municipal courts promote better understanding of procedures and easier access to court information for defendants

The University of Missouri-St. Louis has led the collection of information and data analysis instrumental in the development of these programs. The University has also shared its expertise in procedural justice. Many of the programs have been piloted and have shown promising results. To continue building on past reform efforts, St. Louis County was awarded $2.25 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2016 to invest in these and other steps to further reduce the average daily jail population over the next two years.

This work will result in evidence-based, gender responsive practices that can be used as models across the country.


St. Louis County and the University of Missouri-St. Louis


Those committed to this effort include the St. Louis County Executive; the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court; the Presiding Judge of the 21st Circuit Court; 73 municipal judges; 64 local police chiefs and 12 area federal law-enforcement agencies; prosecution; defense bar; corrections; and probation and parole. Beyond law enforcement, the commitments received from state agencies, mental health and substance abuse organizations, legal aid, reentry and other local service providers also are critical to the success of this reform initiative. The university partner provides extensive research support and handles all fiscal and coordination matters.






  • On December 1, 2015, the average daily confined population of the jail was 1,229—close to its total capacity of 1,232.
  • Individuals detained for probation violations represent 29% of the jail population, and serve an average of 99 days awaiting a violation hearing.
  • Blacks represent 24% of the total population but 51% of municipal court defendants.


  • Expanding a pretrial release program for carefully screened individuals, which is based on best practices nationwide and uses data analyzed by the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
  • A speedy hearing process for those with technical probation violations aims to reduce time spent before seeing a judge to within 10 days of incarceration.
  • A new website serving as the County’s centralized information portal for individuals ticketed in a St. Louis County municipality, along with a text-based court reminder system, will improve understanding of court procedures.
  • Dedicated outreach coordinators will work with community providers to secure mental health and substance abuse treatment along with employment services for reentry into the community.


  • Supported with $2.25 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge, Charleston County aims to reduce their average daily jail population by 25% over the next two years.