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'Jail mail" is a popular way detainees request publication of their stories of wrongful arrest in newspapers. Reporters frequently receive 'jail mail" from those who believe they have been wrongfully arrested. It is difficult and time-consuming for news reporters to track down the detainees that send these letters. As a way to deal with this wrongful arrest problem, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters have created the 'Jailed By Mistake" project.

The 'Jailed By Mistake" contains a list of individuals who have been wrongfully detained in St. Louis. The project is available online and in print editions. At least 100 people have been listed in the database, but the reporters believe that the number is likely higher. Because some records are not released by public officials, it is difficult to accurately track the exact number of people who have been wrongfully detained.

The reporters are now calling for better procedures to be utilized by the St. Louis County Police Department in arresting and detaining individuals. By diligently monitoring an electronic fingerprint system, identification problems that lead to wrongful detention could be decreased. In addition, the project calls for greater attention to emails that may alert public officials that an identity issue exists in regards to a wrongfully detained person.

Many of those who have been wrongfully detained are African American and come from poor backgrounds. These individuals may already be in the system due to minor criminal charges, and this makes it easier for them to be wrongfully detained. Whether one is wrongfully detained for a DWI charge or robbery, a single wrongful detention can lead to loss of employment. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch seeks to raise awareness of this alarming trend and assist in making improvements that would decrease the number of wrongfully arrested people in jail. Consulting with a criminal law attorney may be a good first step for those who believe they have been wrongfully accused of a crime.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Reporters take on wrongful-arrest problem", Gilbert Bailon, October 26, 2013

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