Solving the Municipal Court Problem in St. Louis

12/29/2015– SAINT LOUIS-The St. Louis area has been on the world stage frequently in the past year and a half. The protest movement that grew from the unrest in nearby Ferguson eventually lead to Department of Justice investigations and the creation of the Ferguson Commission to determine the cause of the conflict and encourage solutions to save the region.  Investigators found that despite having only 22% of the state’s population, the St. Louis region represents 46% of the state revenue from municipal fines and fees. Municipal court corruption, specifically excessive fines and fees, became one of the main regional problems highlighted by the Ferguson Commission.

According to the report, “More than half the courts in St. Louis County engage in the “illegal and harmful practices” of charging high court fines and fees on nonviolent offenses like traffic citations and then arresting people when they don’t pay” and “the fining practices of certain courts often led to repeated incarceration, psychological harm, and potential loss of housing and employment.” The Commission’s report acknowledges that municipal court reform is one of the key next steps for the St. Louis region to take in order to turn the situation around.

One of the plans the city of St. Louis will use to combat the fine and fee epidemic in the municipal court system is the Civil Liberties Jobs Program. This pilot program between the City’s Municipal Court and St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (S.L.A.T.E.) gives unemployed young adults up to 24 years of age facing a non-violent municipal fine a better option than additional fines.

The City uses state and federal funding to pay for Civil Liberties Jobs Program participants to work in state and City parks and in City recreation centers, or be placed by STL Youth Jobs site or YouthBuild.   The Civil Liberties Jobs Program is a part of the City’s PIER Plan, which focuses crime reduction efforts through Prevention, Intervention, Enforcement, and Reentry.

Participants gain practical work experience while also taking classes to learn job skills, financial literacy, and leadership. Once participants complete the work, municipal judges cut their fines in half, giving young adults a chance to pay their debt and possibly find a full-time job.

1st Financial Federal Credit Union has been an active partner with Tishaura Jones, Treasurer of the City of St. Louis and S.L.A.T.E. since 2014. To ensure that the graduates of the Civil Liberties Jobs Program leave financially literate, 1st Financial provides free checking and savings accounts, online banking access, and direct deposit as well as comprehensive financial education to everyone in the program.

“This is a very important program for the St. Louis area,” said Bruce Franks Jr. a Mentor Director for S.L.A.T.E.’s Young Adults Program and the founder of 28 to Life, a social empowerment organization dedicated to building relationships between police and the communities they serve. “Many of the people served by this program would otherwise face massive barriers to paying their court fines on time.  By getting them job training, bank accounts, and teaching them financial empowerment, we are helping to overcome this barrier and helping to advance their quality of life.”

He continued, saying “1st Financial took a much needed step for this community. Most banks would have shied away from programs like this.  With this partnership, we can attack these issues from all sides and build a bright future for our city.”

For more information on Youth Build, please visit- https://www.youthbuild.org/about-youthbuild

For more information on S.L.A.T.E., please visit- https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/slate/

For more information about 1st Financial Federal Credit Union and the credit union difference, please visit www.1stfinancialfcu.org

About 1st Financial Federal Credit Union

Like all credit unions, 1st Financial is a member-owned, financial cooperative. 1st Financial Federal Credit Union was chartered on September 3, 1968 as District 837 Credit Union by the International Association of Machinist members employed by McDonnell Douglas. Today, with over 30,000 members and nearly $200 million in assets, 1st Financial is a St. Louis metro area financial institution dedicated to helping members achieve their financial dreams. For over 45 years 1st Financial has provided members with a full line of dependable financial products and services which returns profits to the members in the form of lower rates on loans and higher savings yields. The cooperative nature of credit unions enables 1st Financial to provide products and services at very reasonable rates.

1st Financial Federal Credit Union serves those who live, work, worship, attend school, or regularly conduct business in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and St. Charles County, Missouri and a wide array of companies throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area. 1st Financial is a member-owned, not-for-profit financial organization committed to providing quality services to the membership while demonstrating safe and sound business practices. Deposits are federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), an agency of the U.S. Government.

Not a credit union member? If you live, work, worship, attend school, or regularly conduct business in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and St. Charles County, Missouri, you can open an account today with 1st Financial Federal Credit Union. Visit www.TheBetterWayToBank.org for more information.

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Dan Goeke graduated with a M.A. from Webster University in Advertising and Marketing Communications in 2012. He is currently a Marketing Specialist at 1st Financial Federal Credit Union from St. Charles Missouri.


Prison Recidivism and Financial Empowerment

12/29/2015–SAINT LOUIS-Prison recidivism is a growing problem for our region and the nation as a whole. The population of returning inmates has caused prison budgets to rise and is creating a generation of young men and women without the tools needed for redemption and a normal life. The prison system has shifted from containment for the worst members of society to a place where the poor, the mentally ill, and the downtrodden become caught in an endless cycle that robs them of their innocence, their humanity, and ultimately any chance they might have at a future.

A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report found that 67.8% of the prisoners released in 30 states during the 2005 calendar year were back in prison by 2008. A large portion of these returning inmates find their way back behind bars due to a lack of education, a lack of financial literacy, and a lack of job opportunities for ex-convicts. A 2013 study by The RAND Corporation found that prison recidivism rates decrease by 43% when the inmate receives education while incarcerated.

The St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment ( S.L.A.T.E.) and the City’s Corrections Department partnered together to end the recidivism trend with a pilot program called From Prison to Prosperity which trains young adults ages 17-24 incarcerated at the Medium Security Institution. S.L.A.T.E. recently acquired state and private funding to provide 130 pre-trial detainees classes through Ranken Technical College during incarceration and career resources within the community once they are released.

The goals of the program are to 1) reduce the percentage of returning inmates to area prisons; 2) provide access to supportive, credentialed job training before and after release; 3) connect participants to real job opportunities; and 4) help them open banking and savings accounts and value fiscal responsibility.

Program participants receive comprehensive financial education from 1st Financial Federal Credit Union while they are in the program. Additionally, once they serve their time and earn their release, 1st Financial will also provide access to checking and savings accounts for the inmates.

“The Prison to Prosperity Program is amazing and should have been around years ago,” said Bruce Franks Jr. a Mentor Director for S.L.A.T.E.’s Young Adults Program and the founder of 28 to Life, a social empowerment organization dedicated to building relationships between police and the communities they serve. “The root cause for violence is a lack of education and job opportunities for many of our incarcerated youth. Providing these participants with a support system and structure during and after their time in prison is huge. ”

He continued, saying “the financial education and literacy training these participants receive is very important to the overall goals of the program. True financial empowerment gives these men and women goals, teaches them that saving money feels good, and fosters hope for the future. We appreciate 1st Financial’s support because they have taken a huge step forward; showing other businesses and law enforcement agencies that there is a better way to solve the problems our region faces.”

For more information on Youth Build, please visit- https://www.youthbuild.org/about-youthbuild

For more information on S.L.A.T.E., please visit- https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/slate/

For more information about 1st Financial Federal Credit Union and the credit union difference, please visit www.1stfinancialfcu.org

About 1st Financial Federal Credit Union

Like all credit unions, 1st Financial is a member-owned, financial cooperative. 1st Financial Federal Credit Union was chartered on September 3, 1968 as District 837 Credit Union by the International Association of Machinist members employed by McDonnell Douglas. Today, with over 30,000 members and nearly $200 million in assets, 1st Financial is a St. Louis metro area financial institution dedicated to helping members achieve their financial dreams. For over 45 years 1st Financial has provided members with a full line of dependable financial products and services which returns profits to the members in the form of lower rates on loans and higher savings yields. The cooperative nature of credit unions enables 1st Financial to provide products and services at very reasonable rates.

1st Financial Federal Credit Union serves those who live, work, worship, attend school, or regularly conduct business in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and St. Charles County, Missouri and a wide array of companies throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area. 1st Financial is a member-owned, not-for-profit financial organization committed to providing quality services to the membership while demonstrating safe and sound business practices. Deposits are federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), an agency of the U.S. Government.

Not a credit union member? If you live, work, worship, attend school, or regularly conduct business in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and St. Charles County, Missouri, you can open an account today with 1st Financial Federal Credit Union. Visit www.TheBetterWayToBank.org for more information.

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Dan Goeke graduated with a M.A. from Webster University in Advertising and Marketing Communications in 2012. He is currently a Marketing Specialist at 1st Financial Federal Credit Union from St. Charles Missouri.