New St. Louis mayor’s budget calls for closure of one jail
One day after her inauguration, new St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones on Wednesday announced a budget plan that calls for closing a long-criticized jail known as the workhouse.
Jones’ office said the fiscal year 2021-22 budget proposal was presented to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which will host a public hearing on Friday.
The workhouse, built in the 1960s, has been the subject of complaints for decades. A 2017 lawsuit filed on behalf of detainees cited infestations of rats and rodents, black mold and intolerable heat in the summer and cold in the winter.
“Since 2016, I have called for the closure of the Workhouse due to inhumane conditions, including broken plumbing, inadequate medical care, moldy food and contaminated water; not to mention a toxic culture of abuse, retaliation and neglect among correctional staff,” Jones, a Democrat, said in a statement. “The injustice caused by these dehumanizing conditions are compounded by the fact that most city detainees have not been convicted of any crime, with an average length of stay running longer than 300 days.”
Jones’ office said closing the workhouse would save about $7.8 million. Her proposal calls for using $4 million of the savings to help balance the city budget, $2 million for medical services and meals for detainees, and much of the rest for things such as social work assistance and mental health services.
A news release from Jones’ office did not say where the workhouse inmates would be housed since the other jail, the downtown City Justice Center, is near capacity. Phone and email messages left with Jones’ spokesman were not immediately returned.
The lack of space at the justice center is part of the reason aldermen have allowed the workhouse to remain open despite voting last year to close it.
The downtown jail has had its own problems. It has been the site of four inmate uprisings since December, including two in which fires were set and windows were broken. No inmates or staff were seriously hurt in the uprisings, spurred by inmate complaints about long jail stays awaiting trial and what they see as lack of precautions against COVID-19.
After an incident in February, city leaders acknowledged that some cell locks were susceptible to compromise, but inmates were able to get out of their cells again earlier this month. The city is spending $13.5 million to fix the locks and cell doors, but the process is expected to take several months.
Jones won the general election for mayor on April 6, defeating Alderwoman Cara Spencer. She had been the city treasurer since 2013.
She campaigned on a progressive platform that calls for moving away from the “arrest and incarcerate” model of policing. She wants treatment, rather than punishment, for drug users, and more emphasis on social service programs.
Critics have contended her proposals are dangerous in a city with one of the nation’s highest per capita murder rates.