CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — Faith and civic leaders gathered Thursday to call on St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch to join his counterparts in other urban areas who have stopped requiring people accused of low-level crimes to post money for bail, saying the current system needlessly keeps many poor people behind bars because they can't afford the cost.
The Rev. Darryl Gray, a black community activist, said more than three dozen clergy throughout the region will use their Father's Day sermons on Sunday to speak out against a bail system that needlessly tears apart families, destroys the ability to make a living, and leads to a cycle of incarceration.
"Families are broken up because people lose jobs because bail is too high," Gray said at the gathering outside the St. Louis County Justice Center. "Once people get inside this justice system or any justice system, it is very difficult to get out, and it becomes a revolving door for too many people."
A spokesman for McCulloch declined to comment.
In St. Louis County, as in many jurisdictions across the U.S., prosecutors recommend a bail amount and the judge decides. Amounts vary from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the severity of the alleged crimes.
St. Louis County's criminal justice system has been under scrutiny since 2014, when a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, a black and unarmed 18-year-old, in Ferguson. A St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, but concerns were raised about the justice system's treatment of minority and poor residents.
Blacks make up less than a quarter of St. Louis County's 1 million residents, but they make up two-thirds of its jail inmates.
Over the past several months, prosecutors in several other urban areas have stopped requiring monetary bail for lower-level crimes or have reduced the amounts required.
In April, the top prosecutor for Richmond, Virginia, instructed prosecutors to stop recommending bail and instead recommend release of suspects, but with pretrial conditions, unless they pose a potential risk.
Philadelphia's district attorney announced in February that he instructed city prosecutors not to seek bail in cases alleging 25 misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. He said the system discriminates against blacks, Latinos and poor people.
Last July, a judge in Chicago signed an order changing the cash-bond system in one of the nation's busiest judicial districts. The action came after Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx made bond reform a campaign issue in 2016.
St. Louis County's system of requiring bail for lesser crimes is itself "criminal," said the Rev. Cassandra Gould of Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
"It is extracting wealth from our communities," she said.