(The Center Square) – St. Louis is spending millions of taxpayer dollars on locks at its 20-year-old justice center as inmates staged a sixth uprising in eight months.
Dan Isom, who served as chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for five years and now is serving as public safety director, said that steps being taken to resolve the situation. Isom, public safety advisor Heather Taylor and interim corrections commissioner Jeff Carson said detainees once again opened cell locks by stuffing paper into them.
Isom said approximately 140 detainees will be moved to a jail on the north side of the city, commonly called the “workhouse,” to expedite upgrades to locks and alleviate the need for corrections officers to constantly check for altered locks.
“That will allow us to more rapidly fix and upgrade many of the locks,” Isom said. “It’s the best option going forward for a facility that’s been neglected for 20 years.”
The workhouse was closed in June and inmates moved to the justice center, putting it at approximately 95% of capacity. It fulfilled a campaign promise by Mayor Tishaura Jones to close the facility due to unsanitary and inhumane conditions.
President Lewis Reed and other members of the Board of Aldermen criticized the closing at the time and again over the weekend, citing concerns about a lack of planning, overcrowding and safety to inmates and corrections officers. Plus, approximately 200 inmates facing federal charges were transferred from the workhouse to jails in Indiana and Kentucky, providing a significant distance for visits by families and lawyers.
The city also received reimbursements for housing federal detainees.
Last December, 56 detainees at the City Justice Center were moved to the workhouse after refusing to return to their cells. Through their families, many expressed frustration with delayed legal proceedings due to pandemic restrictions and poor conditions. In January, 45 more detainees were moved to the workhouse after a second disturbance.
On Feb. 6, about 100 detainees took control of the fourth floor of the seven-story jail after opening locks and escaping their cells. Many windows were broken, detainees set fire to mattresses and threw furniture to the street below. Similar actions took place on Easter Sunday, April 4. The next day, Richard Bradley, president of the St. Louis Board of Public Service, told reporters plans for renovations, increased security and new locks in the jail would be completed in May and cost about $13.5 million.
“Like every 20-year-old facility, there are things that need to be done to bring it up to date,” Bradley told reporters during a news conference on April 5. “The issue with the locks is quite a bit more detailed than just the locks. There are frames, there are doors, there is glazing… there are a number of things that have to be replaced and we are currently working in two areas. We started immediately after the (February) event. As you can imagine, you can’t go to Lowes and buy penal equipment or penal locks.”
On July 27, about 20 detainees refused to return to their cells. Videos obtained by several media outlets show detainees outside of their cells. One then covered the surveillance camera with cloth. When order was restored, a worker can be seen removing the obstruction from the camera and revealing destruction of a computer workstation.
“During the past two administrations, no resources have been put into these (jail) facilities,” Isom said. “Systematic changes not only in operations, equipment, facilities … staffing will take time to correct.”
Originally Appeared Here