Prisons

St. Louis Routinely Jails the Wrong People

100 misidentified people stuck behind bars for a total of 2,000 days across seven years

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Shannon Renee McNeal was torn from her screaming children by police who were seeking a woman with a similar name — a woman who they should have known had been murdered seven months before. A clerical mistake set up the arrest, sloppy attention to fingerprints put her behind bars and months of indifference to the error cost McNeal her home, $15,000 and, for a while, her job driving a Metro bus.

Yet she may be luckier than scores of others who have been wrongfully arrested and spent weeks, even months, trapped behind bars in a broken St. Louis city justice system. 

The Post-Dispatch has identified 100 people arrested in error over the past seven years. Collectively, they spent more than 2,000 days in jail — an average of about three weeks each. One man alone was incarcerated 211 days. About a quarter were held repeatedly — one of them, five times — and 15 were locked up while the right suspect was already behind bars.