Several years ago, judges at the St. Louis Circuit Court came up with a simple idea: get everyone who handles criminal cases — from prosecutors to public defenders to police officers — together to share ideas about making improvements.
Now, legislation awaiting Mayor Lyda Krewson’s signature looks to turn an informal gathering into a professional endeavor with paid staff.
The bill, sponsored by Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, creates the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The 20-member council would have a full-time executive director and administrative staff, with the task of defining and analyzing “issues and procedures in the criminal justice system, identifying alternative solutions, and making recommendations for improvements and changes.”
“I think coordination is always really important, and like in any organization, that’s sometimes where we lack,” Krewson said Wednesday at a press conference touting the council. “I really just think for any system, recognizing it as a system and bringing people together I think will result in better outcomes.”
The council and its committees have been meeting over the past year, under the direction of Debbie Allen, who is working in the mayor’s office as a FUSE Fellow. The program pairs mid-career executives with local governments to help cities address issues like criminal justice or transportation. She will be in that role through at least October, and Krewson said the office is looking for funding to extend her term longer. Eventually, Krewson hopes the council will become a part of the city’s yearly budget.
That professionalization is critical to making the council work this time around, said Michael Mullen, the presiding judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit, which covers the city.
“All of us who are on the CJCC also runs their own office,” he said. “While it’s a very important issue that we want to work at the CJCC, none of us have the time or resources to devote to making sure that the CJCC is organized correctly and is run correctly.”
Membership on the council breaks down this way:
- The circuit attorney, circuit court administrator, police chief, municipal court judge, municipal court clerk, sheriff, public defender, corrections commissioner and probation and parole administrator are members of the council by virtue of being in office.
- The presiding judge of the circuit court appoints one judge as a member. That judge appoints two representatives of “community-based stakeholders whose mission aligns with the CJCC priorities."
- The circuit attorney appoints one prosecutor from her office.
- The sheriff appoints one of his deputies.
There are also two non-voting members of the council who provide victim services from the prosecution and law-enforcement sides.
The makeup of the council prompted some opposition from the Board of Aldermen.
“Right now, I have some concern that we are inviting the same voices that have historically been at the table to the table and calling it reform,” said Alderman Bret Narayan, D-24th Ward, during floor debate on the measure on July 3.
Narayan said he’s still concerned about how “community stakeholder” will be defined, but ultimately voted yes because, “I did not want to let perfect get in the way of good.
“I will continue to discuss this issue with my colleagues to attempt to ensure that the 'community stakeholders' are members of the community committed to meaningful reform of the criminal justice system,” he said.
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