St. Louis Public Safety Leaders Plan To Improve Jail Food

St. Louis officials say steps are being taken to deal with complaints about conditions at the St. Louis Justice Center and the medium security facility known as the Workhouse, including the hiring of a new grocer at the Justice Center.

The city has solicited proposals from food service contractors, said Daniel Isom, interim public safety director.

“We have certainly had complaints about the quality of the food and we want to address that,” said Isom. “One of the problems is that the food is prepared in the justice center and then delivered to MSI. So you can imagine that this is quite a logistically challenging task. “

St. Louis Mayoress Tishaura Jones said she plans to close the workhouse by July. Isom said many inmates complained that when the food was delivered to inmates in the workhouse, it was often cold. He said closing the workhouse and moving many of its inmates to the justice center should also allow faster access to fresher food.

“Closing MSI and being in a facility will make the process a lot easier,” Isom said. “This is one of the main reasons we all believe closing MSI is best for everyone involved. Managing an operation on one location with a food prep will make things a lot better in the future. “

Isom said if the city contracts with other prisons within 50 miles of the city to accommodate more inmates, those facilities will have food preparation facilities in that building.

Isom also said changes to the city’s civil inspectorate will allow members to investigate more complaints. Jones signed an executive order last month that allows board members to access complaints against police officers and law enforcement officers.

Alderman Joe Vaccaro, D-23 Ward, chairman of the board’s public safety committee, said while he did not support the closure of the workhouse, an independent oversight body with access to complaints was needed to inspect the prisons.

“All of these things need to be noted, we don’t have to let them break out to tell us there is a problem,” said Vaccaro. “Hopefully this would help with complaints.”

Vaccaro expressed concern about the workhouse closure, particularly for detainees being taken to facilities outside of the city without immediate access to their lawyers or family. According to Isom, city officials are setting the radius of 50 miles so visitors don’t have to travel any further.

Other public security officials said further improvements to the prison were in the works, such as repairing the locks in the cells of the justice center. In the past six months, inmates have fled their cells during a series of riots. Heather Johnson, a senior advisor to Isom, said there are plans to overhaul the justice center floors and ensure the locks are fixed.

“Right now we have a problem,” said Taylor. “We have to keep making changes one at a time, you know, this won’t happen overnight, the decision to shut down MSI for good wasn’t made overnight.”

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