Task force urges independent oversight of St. Louis jail

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A task force appointed to examine concerns about a troubled St. Louis jail is urging the city to create an independent oversight board to help oversee the lockup, according to a report released Friday.

Task force leaders shared the report with Mayor Lyda Krewson. The Rev. Darryl Gray, a longtime racial justice advocate who chairs the task force, said the creation of an oversight board is an “urgent priority.”

“This Board should have the authority to obtain relevant information, unrestricted access to detainees and staff, adequate resources to hire external expertise, and provide on-going long-term oversight,” Gray wrote in the report.

Krewson and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said in a statement that they’ll review the recommendations.

“Our shared priority continues to be the health and safety of our Corrections employees and the detainees who the Courts have placed into our custody, in addition to the safety, security, and integrity of our correctional facilities like CJC,” the statement said.

Inmate frustration at the downtown City Justice Center boiled over in the predawn hours of Feb. 6, when 117 inmates got out of their cells, smashed windows, set fires and tossed chairs, a filing cabinet and other items through the broken glass onto the street four stories below. A corrections officer was briefly hospitalized.

It was the third violent outburst at the jail since December. Edwards blamed the uprisings on “angry, defiant, very violent people,” but inmate advocates blamed the poor treatment of the detainees.

Inmates have complained about unhealthy and inhumane conditions, and have expressed worries that the jail’s COVID-19 precautions fall short. City leaders have cited coronavirus protocols that include 14-day quarantine periods for each new detainee, masks replaced upon request and testing anytime a detainee or a nurse detects symptoms.

The task force also recommended more recreation time for inmates, limiting the length of stay in a holding cell to a maximum of 24 hours, faster response to medical needs, and a renewed effort to reduce legal logjams that have kept some pre-trial detainees in jail for well over a year.

In addition to Gray, the nine-member task force includes two aldermen and six community members, including St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt and former state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed.