ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV.com) -- Six months leading the prosecutor’s office in St. Louis County and Wesley bell says he's still fighting the good fight.
In January, he was sworn in as the first black St. Louis County Prosecutor with a new approach to criminal justice reform.
Bell told News 4 the main goal is still to attack mental health and drug addiction - to curb crime, something he touted while vying to unseat for county prosecutor Bob McCulloch. Eighty percent of the people who come in contact with the justice system, Bell said, are dealing with drugs, substance abuse or both.
“When we take the nonviolent, low-level offenders and keep them at their jobs and give them the treatment that they need, they are significantly less likely to reoffend and makes us all safer,” said Bell.
It’s part of his diversion program, which has expanded with nearly 40 community partnerships.
“We know there’s a pathway to prison, but there’s also a pathway to success,” Bell said. “If you don’t address the underlying root cause of what is our criminal drivers if we don’t address the root causes of those, we’re going to be in an endless cycle.”
The number of inmates in the St. Louis County Jail is at the lowest level since the early 2000's, according to Bell
There have been four inmate deaths reported this year alone. The family members of three of them tell News 4 there needs to be improvement, saying their relatives died in jail because medical needs were ignored.
As we've reported, County Executive Sam Page said an overhaul at the jail is needed.
Bell told News 4 as they strive to get these jail numbers down it will allow staff and social workers to focus on individualized needs and care to help avoid deaths in the jail.
“One of the things we talked about during the campaign was the need to reduce the jail population here in the justice center with respect to the nonviolent offenders. I'm proud that since we've gotten in office, in six months, we've reduced the jail population by around 15 percent - which is significant,” said Bell.
For these recent inmate deaths, records show corrections officers followed proper protocol.
Page said in the last seven weeks, they’ve made aggressive changes including three jail staffers being disciplined for violating policy and training for medical staff has been improved.
“So, the substance abuse and mental health issues are not a quick fix, it's not going away,” stated Bell. “What we've seen in the past from this office, prior to me coming in. Our substance abuse program was capped at about 75 people a year, we're a county of a million people. Kansas City is a little bit more than half our population and treating over 80-percent more people than we are.”