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St. Charles County courts reduce jail population fearing coronavirus outbreak

More than 50 inmates were allowed to go home this week and given new court dates
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ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. — Judges, public defenders and prosecutors in St. Charles County have worked together this week to reduce the jail population, to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus should an outbreak happen there.

So far, 56 inmates have been allowed to leave the jail, bringing the total number of inmates to fewer than 350, said Circuit Judge Daniel Pelikan, presiding judge for the 11th Circuit Court.

That’s about a 14% reduction to the slightly more than 400 inmates housed there on a daily basis.

“The great fear is that an inmate will test positive, which would quarantine a large chunk of the jail and its personnel,” he said. “So we got all of the criminal judges together and looked at all of the cases in our divisions and we were able to reduce the number in the jail.”

But the circuit judges can only do so much.

A “significant” portion of the inmates are there for federal cases that the county does not control, so they will have to remain there, Pelikan said.

Six of the freed inmates were allowed to leave because they had fewer than 30 days left on their sentences, Pelikan said.

The majority of the rest who were allowed to leave were there because of failure to appear warrants on nonviolent offenses such as stealing and drug possession charges, he said.

All of those released as part of this process were given new court dates, he said.

“We only let out those who were zero risk offenders,” he said. “Serious felonies or misdemeanors involving an assault on a person were not included.”

St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar said he supported the idea within the perimeters Pelikan explained.

“While we are releasing a higher number of inmates than usual, those folks who we believe to be dangerous to the community are still, and will remain, incarcerated,” he wrote.

Pelikan said the county’s public defender’s office also has taken steps to start moving people out of the jail.

All 60 people who were on the wait list for a public defender were assigned attorneys this week, Pelikan said.

The public defender’s office got additional funding to hire more outside attorneys and existing public defenders agreed to take on more cases. When an inmate gets an attorney, the sooner they can be heard in court.

And many of the 60 wait-listed inmates will likely get probation because of their low level offenses, Pelikan said.

“It just another example of people pulling together to make this happen,” he said.

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