CLAYTON, Mo. – St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell and Presiding Judge Michael Burton are on two different pages when it comes to criminal justice reform, according to dueling emails obtained by FOX 2.
The dispute surrounds programs meant to get defendants help rather than send them to jails and prisons.
Burton recently wrote Bell that he’s concerned the Alternative Courts returned $83,477.27 of federal money over the last three years, adding, “…we consider the returned funds as missed opportunities to help as many people as possible.”
“This effort has not been embraced by your office and there doesn’t seem to be an urgency in identifying the appropriate cases for treatment court.”
Bell believes the matter has been blown up larger than it needed to be.
“If this email was not leaked somehow to the press, this would have been a conversation, a meeting, and we would have had a beer and laughed about it later,” he said.
Bell says his office just ran the data to find his referrals to Alternative Courts are up. A spokesman for the prosecuting attorney’s office wrote, “…there was a 10% increase in admissions to the treatment courts in 2019 during Wesley’s first year in office.”
Plus, Bell said some defendants are a better fit for a different program – Diversion.
“Some people that come in and they’ve never been in trouble. They had a small amount of drugs. We don’t want to put them through that whole criminal justice process,” Bell said. “They just need a little help—and the data has supported that—that when we get those individuals into our programs, by and large, they are not coming back into our criminal justice program.”
Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum says his clients have used both alternative programs.
“It’s certainly not one-size-fits-all and there are a number of things that the Diversion program of the prosecutor’s office can do that I believe the Alternative Courts cannot do,” he said.
Bell says he and Judge Burton agree on the subject of incarceration alternatives.
“…I think when we get a chance to sit down, which that’s what is going to happen, we will be able to work through some of these misunderstandings,” Bell said.
That meeting could happen as early as this week. Bell says that he’s disappointed to hear about underutilized funds but adds this is not only is this the first he’s hearing about it, but he says it’s also not his office’s fault. His office added that a component of their Diversion program also uses grant money.