Ferguson Jail Support Guidelines and Legal Collective Info

(Updated July 12, 2015)

WHO WE ARE:

We are an organization of activists, organizers and volunteers, many without formal legal backgrounds, combating the prison industrial complex and the criminalization of asserting first amendment rights. We advocate for change on both the municipal and state-wide levels through education, accessibility, solidarity, and empowerment. In the short term, we help people navigate the legal system as it exists today, but over the long term we are working to dismantle a system that was created to exploit and oppress marginalized communities.

HISTORY OF JAIL SUPPORT:

The week after Mike Brown was murdered, organizers in St. Louis realized that the movement needed some kind of jail support infrastructure. Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) had organized actions with civil disobedience before. Organizers had some sense of how to navigate the local jail systems, and MORE became the organizational home for this work. We posted a fundraising link online. Jail support started with just a couple of people staffing the jail support hotline and spending nights at the St. Louis County jail in order to pay bonds and meet activists as they were released. In the next days, it became obvious that there were going to be more protest-related arrests and more severe charges for those arrests than many people had seen in St. Louis in a long time.

We realized we needed to figure out how to quickly scale up jail support in order to meet activists’ needs. We began recruiting volunteers, convened a meeting of local criminal defense attorneys, and connected with people who had experience doing jail support for Occupy Wall Street and other large mobilizations. We eventually recruited over 150 people to volunteer for jail support. The jail support hotline was staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for over 5 months. A couple of months later, some of the jail support volunteers and MORE organizers met about the idea of establishing a “legal collective” -- a more permanent structure that could both engage volunteers and staff the jail support hotline, as well as provide other kinds of support including documenting police misconduct, leading ‘know your rights’ trainings, and provide longer term case management for activists in jail with very high bonds. The legal collective (which had a core leadership team of about 12 people and about 30 additional members) began planning for the non-indictment announcement and eventually carried on jail support and other legal support after the non-indictment.

We have provided support of some kind to over 800 arrestees. The legal support fund has spent $356,592 to date. This money has gone towards 203 people’s bonds (and, in some instances, bench warrants), paying for legal representation for 137 people, putting money on commissary for people who were in jail longer term, and loading money onto cell phones of jailed folks’ friends and families. It also went toward paying the phone bill for the jail support hotline and supplies like water and granola bars to give to people once they were released from jail. There is currently about $20,000 left in the legal support fund (only about $7000 of bond money spent has been returned to the fund so far).

$356,592 is obviously a huge amount of money (some bond money will be returned to the fund, but it will not be returned until people’s cases are closed). We believe it was integral to the movement to spend that money to get people out of jail. It allowed people to be back on the streets and provided some security that people would not be lost in jail. But, as the money was spent, many people brought up the problem of giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the very system we were fighting and began talking about what it would look like to adopt a “starve the beast” or “jail solidarity” model (in which people would refuse to bond out of jail and instead use collective pressure and organizing to secure their release). Some of the below guidelines are meant to address that issue as well as financial sustainability of the legal support fund.

MISSION STATEMENT:

The St. Louis Legal Collective is an organization of activists, organizers, and volunteers providing assistance to marginalized communities determined to liberate themselves from oppressive criminal justice systems.

OUR VALUES:

We are a multifaceted legal collective providing direct service to support activists through hotlines, case management and limited financial support in order to provide access to legal services to those financially unable to to pursue assistance on their own.

We also do work around advocacy and education through know your rights trainings, organizing and empowering those who have been arrested, and informing those we work with of their legal options.

Neither guilt nor innocence drives our commitment to individual activists because we have an understanding that we are all victims of the greater criminal justice system -- as a result of our races, sexuality, and socioeconomic status.

What Can Jail Support Do?

JS can bond you out if you are arrested while actively protesting and are given a protest-related charge. If you are unsure if your arrest applies, call us at the jail support hotline to determine if your charges are applicable.

 

JS can refer you to a movement lawyer who we can pay for; however, all movement lawyers work on a volunteer basis and as such we cannot guarantee that a lawyer will be available. It is your responsibility to follow up with Jail Support should you desire an attorney.

 

Although we cannot pay your bench warrants, JS can track you as you move through the system and try to be available upon your release.

 

JS can help you do a warrant check so that you know your status and can plan your activism accordingly.

 

Jail Support can pay for electronic monitoring, phone calls, and commissary; however these services are provided on a case-by-case basis.

 

Things You Should Know:

You may have to remain in jail for a 24 hour period. This practice is to move us away from financially supporting the system that we are fighting against and to try to conserve resources since the legal support fund is running low. If there is an option to stay in jail for 24 hours without paying a bond, we will try to utilize this option. Of course, people’s safety is our first priority; if someone who has been arrested has been injured, has a medical emergency, etc. we will do everything we can to get them released as quickly as possible. When at all possible, we will talk to people before they are arrested or once they are arrested (when they call from their cell) to confirm that they can stay in jail for 24 hours.

Here is a run-down of what should happen when you commit to staying in jail for 24 hours (of course, we can’t always know what kinds of ridiculous and unjust things the courts and jails will do):

JS cannot pay your bench warrants. Fortunately, as a result of recent legislation, it is becoming less likely that you will be placed in jail as the result of outstanding traffic violations. Even if you have warrants, we can post your bond for the protest related arrest.

If you fail to appear for court, you may forfeit the possibility of using additional jail support services. The jail support fund is designed to be recycled so that as cases are concluded bond money goes back into the pot for others. Failure to appear to court forfeits bond money and makes us unable to assist other arrestees.

 

Should you choose not to use a movement lawyer, we may be able to assist you with your independent fundraiser, but we cannot guarantee that any funds will be provided from Jail Support.

The jail support number is 314-862-2249. If you are in jail and must make a collect call we can receive your calls at this number. You can also contact jail support using the number 314-59 MARCH (596-2724) but this number cannot accept collect calls. If no one answers, ALWAYS LEAVE A MESSAGE WITH YOUR LEGAL NAME, DATE OF BIRTH AND THE NAME/MUNICIPALITY OF THE JAIL FACILITY YOU ARE IN.

When you are planning actions that have any potential for arrest, please notify jail support 48 hours in advance.  In addition, Jail Support information for all persons participating in the action should be left with someone who will not be at the action. Information should include: Legal names; Dates of birth; Urgent medical conditions or medications needed; Gender status; and if the person is willing and able to stay in jail for 24 hours if arrested. If you don’t notify us 48 hours in advance, we cannot guarantee that the hotline will be staffed when people are arrested or in jail (especially if it is late at night). However, we check messages every morning. So, if arrests occur and no one picks up the phone when you call the hotline, leave a message with all of the info and we will begin working on people’s release the next morning.

If you are a Trans person, jail can be very dangerous and we may have a harder time finding you. Please provide gender information to someone not at the action if you think there is a chance you may be arrested.

How Were These Guidelines Created?

The above guidelines were created by jail support volunteers, legal collective members, arrestees who have been bailed out by jail support, and members of legal collectives from across the country. Additionally, a legal collective town hall was held on June 25, 2015 to provide a space for people to learn about the legal system, identify needs from the legal collective, and provide feedback about the legal collective and jail support. The guidelines were created with two primary goals in mind: 1. meeting the ongoing needs of activists and 2. sustainability (both financial and capacity wise). We recognize that the jail support guidelines must be flexible in order to respond to needs identified by the movement, how much money there is left in the fund, etc. You can find the most recent guidelines on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/stllegalcollective?fref=ts.  If you have questions about the guidelines, you can always call the legal support hotline at 314-862-2249 (leave a message if we don’t pick up) or email us at fergusonjs2014@gmail.com.