ArchCity Defenders | St. Louis Public Radio

ArchCity Defenders

David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

A non-profit civil rights law firm wants to help people help themselves when they’re in legal trouble.

ArchCity Defenders created the guide known as Pro Se STL. The guide’s namesake, pro se, comes from the Latin term that means “for oneself.” It's aimed at helping people advocate and protect themselves when they have interactions with law enforcement, go to jail or in the courtroom.

Executive director Blake Strode said the guide is particularly helpful for those who don’t have representation, because they can’t afford the standard legal fees.

St. Louis Public Radio and other local news outlets took a guided tour of the Medium Security Institution, also known as the Workhouse, in March 2018.
Ashley Lisenby | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis public safety officials want city residents to know people jailed at the St. Louis Medium Security Institution are treated humanely despite allegations to the contrary.

In March, the mayor’s spokesman invited reporters to tour the jail — commonly known as the Workhouse — after weeks of requests for access from local press. A pending lawsuit against the jail by ArchCity Defenders alleges inhumane conditions, including poor ventilation, rodent and insect infestation and problems with black mold.

Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass fended off the claims in the lawsuit.

ArchCity Defenders new executive director Blake Strode talked about the organization's mission to continue helping underserved citizens.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

The non-profit civil rights law firm ArchCity Defenders is a legal advocacy group established less than a decade ago in St. Louis. After the organization’s co-founder Thomas Harvey announced his resignation as executive director, attorney Blake Strode became his successor.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with Strode, the St. Louis native, Harvard Law School graduate and former Skadden fellow. He returned to St. Louis to use his law degree to work on social and racial justice issues.

St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards speaks at a Citizen Advisory Committee meeting in 2017.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards made remarks about crime in St. Louis that prompted a sharp response from civil rights law firm ArchCity Defenders.

Edwards told a crowd at a Martin Luther King Day event that black-on-black crime was a problem African-American residents need to tackle.

About 1,000 people die in U.S. jails every year. Half of deaths are due to illness, according to federal statistics.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Shirletta Chambly has lost two family members in St. Louis jails: First her brother, and then her 21-year-old son.

Maleek Coleman-Chambly died after a seizure in his bed at the St. Louis City Justice Center on Jan. 31, 2017. Family members claim he told them over the phone that jail personnel had refused to give him his epilepsy medication the night before.

Lamya Orr tries to greet a friend who is inside the Workhouse while standing outside the gate with his children and their mother.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Since Thomas Harvey helped start ArchCity Defenders in 2009, he has delivered legal representation to homeless and working poor people throughout St. Louis. But now, Harvey is taking part in a nationwide effort that could get tens of thousands of people out of jail while they await a trial.

Harvey is relocating to Los Angeles to take a position with the Bail Project, which is seeking to pay the bails of roughly 160,000 people over the next few years. The organization plans to set up operations in 40 cities, including St. Louis. Harvey says the work will change lives and communities — and provide momentum to an existing activist movement to end cash bail.

Lara Hamdan / St. Louis Public Radio

After spending eight years as executive director of ArchCity Defenders in St. Louis, Thomas Harvey will move to California to take on a much bigger role.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked to Harvey about his career and what work he hopes to continue. Harvey will move to Los Angeles at the end of the year to establish a national organization that will bail out people held in jail who cannot afford their temporary release.

The majority of people housed at the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis do not have air conditioning. (July 19, 2017)
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated November 13 at 3:30 p.m. with comments from attorneys and the city — A local legal nonprofit has sued the city of St. Louis, saying conditions at the Medium Security Institution violate the rights of inmates.

ArchCity Defenders filed the federal lawsuit Monday on behalf of seven inmates who spent time at the jail. The suit accuses the city of ignoring unsanitary conditions that led to a variety of health problems, and providing inadequate medical care. Guards are also accused of goading inmates into fights, and sexually harassing female inmates.

More than a hundred protesters marched in downtown Clayton on Sunday afternoon and demanded the release of 22 people who were arrested at the Saint Louis Galleria on Saturday.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

It wasn’t so much of a protest as a vigil on Sunday as demonstrators gathered at the Justice Center in Clayton to wait for the release of the people arrested Saturday at a protest in the Galleria.

By 5 p.m., all 22 of those arrested had been released.