Better Together Releases Municipal Courts Study

To read the report in full, please visit /municipal-courts-report

Press Contact:
Ed Rhode


Better Together Releases Municipal Courts Study

Report highlights systemic problems including court oversight and fines & fees

October 15, 2014 – St. Louis, Mo. – Today Better Together released its study of municipal courts in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. Both the data and the qualitative information in this report point to a troubling issue: Many of the municipal courts in the region have lost the trust of their communities. This is particularly true in municipalities that are predominantly African-American and poor.

The Municipal Courts Study examines the issues of court oversight, the use (and misuse) of court fines and fees, the need for access to open courts, and the importance of clarifying defendants’ rights.

“The recent turmoil in our region underscores the need to take a close look at the provision of public safety services,” said Better Together Executive Director Nancy Rice. “Our current system is not working, and the data shows that our African-American communities are paying the highest price for this systemic failure.”

Key findings in the report include:

  • The presiding judge in St. Louis County must oversee 81 municipal courts, more than 10 times the number of courts as an average judge in Missouri. The region’s fragmentation makes sound oversight completely unachievable.
  • The combined populations of the 90 municipalities in St. Louis County account for only 11% of Missouri’s population yet bring in 34% of all municipal court fines and fees statewide ($45,136,416 in 2013).
  • Twenty of the 21 municipalities that derive at least 20% of their general budget from fines and fees are located north of Olive Boulevard and within the boundary of I-270. These municipalities’ populations are on average 62% black, with 22% living below the poverty line. (By way of comparison, St. Louis County as a whole is 24% black with 11% below the poverty line.) Combined with the Attorney General’s 2013 finding that black drivers were 66 percent more likely than white drivers to be stopped, it becomes clear that these municipalities’ method of financial survival comes primarily at the expense of black citizens.
  • According to 2013 data, 73 of the 81 municipal courts turn a significant profit, bringing in more revenue than they require to operate. On average, a municipal court in St. Louis County brings in an average of $711,506 in revenue from fines and fees each year yet costs $223,149 to operate, leaving an average net revenue of $488,367. Not surprisingly, many in the community view the courts as revenue centers, rather than centers of justice.

The Better Together Municipal Court study addresses these issues and others, as well as providing extensive supporting data and best-practice recommendations from practitioners, academic experts, advocates, and stakeholders from across the St. Louis region.

To read the report in full, please visit /municipal-courts-report


About Better Together

Better Together launched in November 2013 as a grassroots project sponsored by the Missouri Council for a Better Economy (MCBE).  Born in response to growing public interest in addressing the fragmented nature of local government throughout St. Louis City and St. Louis County, Better Together is driving an inclusive, transparent process of developing and assembling valuable information other organizations can use to craft their own plans for what the future of the region should look like.

Today, 1.3 million people who call St. Louis home are served by 115 local governments, which include St. Louis City and St. Louis County, as well as 90 municipalities and 23 fire districts.  The costs associated with funding all 115 governments has reached $2.3 billion per year, underscoring the need to revisit the discussion to reunite the region.