Participation in two warrant forgiveness programs has been slow, and officials in St. Louis and St. Louis County are trying to figure out why.
In October, Mayor Francis Slay announced that St. Louis' municipal court would lift arrest warrants for people who had failed to take care of a minor traffic violation. The court ran ads in local media, sent postcards to any address they had on file for individuals with a warrant, partnered with local social service organizations to spread the word, and even recorded a message on the court's phone system.
But Slay's spokeswoman, Maggie Crane said just about 3,300 people of the nearly 75,000 eligible have asked for a new court date.
"We sometimes hear that people are afraid of what they are going to come into when they come into the court," Crane said. "I can tell you that when you come to the court, you will go to the customer service window, you will prove who you are, they will check your name off and give you a new court date. It is free."
A similar warrant forgiveness program in 70 municipal courts in St. Louis County is also going slowly. Frank Vatterott, the municipal judge in Overland and the chair of a committee trying to reform the municipal court, said just a few hundred people have asked for a new court date so far. Unlike the amnesty in the city, participation in the county's program requires a $100 bond.
Vatterott said warrant forgiveness programs rarely do well. He said many people simply do not have the money to pay the fine to settle the violation that leads to the arrest warrant.
"But it's fiction to believe that everyone has a good excuse. It’s just absolute fiction," he said. "The truth is, a lot of people say 'well, I just thought you’d forgot about it,' or 'I didn’t think you were serious when you said you were going to issue a warrant'."
Brendan Roediger, the head of the civil law clinic at Saint Louis University, was sharply critical of the $100 bond for the county's forgiveness program. And he said skepticism about the county's efforts were leading to "justified, but unrealistic" concerns about the sincerity of the city's program, which he encouraged people to take advantage of.
The city and county programs both end on Dec. 31.
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