New St. Louis mayor’s budget calls for closure of one jail

A day after her inauguration, St. Louis’ new Mayoress Tishaura Jones announced on Wednesday a budget plan to close a long-criticized prison called the Workhouse.

Jones’ office announced that the budget proposal for fiscal year 2021-22 has been submitted to the Board of Estimation and Apportionment, which will hold 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 inmates alleged infestation by rats and rodents, black mold and unbearable heat in summer and cold in winter.

“Since 2016 I have been calling for the workhouse to be closed 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 law enforcement officials, “the Democrat Jones said in a statement. “The injustice caused by these dehumanizing conditions is compounded by the fact that most urban detainees have not been convicted of any crime and the average length of stay is longer than 300 days.”

Jones’ office said closing the workhouse would save about $ 7.8 million. Her proposal calls for $ 4 million of the savings to be used to balance the city budget, $ 2 million for medical services and meals for inmates, and much of the rest for things like social work and mental health services.

A press release from Jones’ office did not specify where the workhouse inmates would be housed as the other prison, the downtown justice center, is almost at full capacity. Phone and email messages left by Jones’ spokesman were not returned immediately.

The lack of space in the justice center is one of the reasons city councils have allowed the workhouse to stay open, despite voting to close it last year.

The downtown prison had its own problems. Four inmate riots have taken place here since December, including two involving fires and breaking windows. No inmates or staff were seriously injured in the riot, triggered by complaints from inmates about long prison stays pending trial and what they see as a lack of precautionary measures against COVID-19.

After an incident in February, city guides admitted that some cell locks could be compromised, but inmates were able to get out of their cells earlier this month. The city is spending $ 13.5 million to repair the locks and cell doors, but the process is expected to take several months.

Jones won the April 6 general election, defeating Alderwoman Cara Spencer. She has been the city treasurer since 2013.

She campaigned for a progressive platform that calls for a departure from the “arrest and detention” model of police work. She wants treatment rather than punishment for drug users and more emphasis on social services programs.

Critics have claimed their proposals are dangerous in a city with one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the country.

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