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St. Louis Bars Some Convicts With 'Neighborhood Orders of Protection'

Alvin Cooper was lying on a St. Louis venting grate on a 38-degree night. A police sergeant asked him to move, Cooper refused. The sergeant pointed to signs that said “No Trespassing” and “No Panhandling.” Cooper said, “I ain’t going nowhere.” Officers arrested Cooper on charges of trespassing and resisting arrest. Cooper pleaded guilty to trespassing and signed an agreement saying that as a condition of probation, he would stay out of downtown St. Louis for a year. The "neighborhood order of protection" meant that Cooper could be arrested if he so much as set foot inside a 1.2-square-mile area — 100 city blocks — that is home to many of the organizations that provide shelter, meals and care to homeless people, reports ProPublica.

Other cities order people to stay away from specific individuals or places, and some have set up areas that are off-limits to people convicted of drug or prostitution charges. Few have taken the practice to St. Louis’ extreme, particularly as a response to petty incidents. Seattle and some suburbs have blocked off certain areas “exclusion zones” where people who have been convicted of drug or prostitution offenses can be arrested. In St. Louis, neighborhood orders of protection affect large swaths of the city and are typically in effect for a year or two, although some orders have had expiration dates in 2099. A person who violates an order may face a fine of up to $500 or be sentenced to as long as 90 days in jail. Criminologist Victor St. John of Saint Louis University said even limited bans may have a dire impact “in terms of individuals not being able to engage with family members or friends.” University of Washington professors Katherine Beckett and Steve Herbert, who have studied Seattle’s efforts, said in their 2009 book, “Banished: The New Social Control in Urban America,” that banishment is “rarely debated publicly” and that cities’ tactics are “largely deployed without much fanfare."


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