THE FELON EXPRESS TO CLAYTON

St. Louis prisoners' temporary digs in the county jail mean headaches for city Sheriff Jim Murphy

Checking with the city's sheriff, Jim Murphy, about where he stood on the Ronnie White fiasco (Murphy didn't sign the sheriffs' anti-White petition), we find Murphy is worried about a more pressing issue.

The move of prisoners from the city jail on 14th Street to rented quarters in Clayton while the new city jail is built -- once set for August, then October -- looks as if it's been pushed back to January. Murphy is not looking forward to having his deputies chauffeuring felons back and forth between downtown and Clayton.

"If you've ever driven out to Clayton at 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning or 4 in the afternoon, you know it will be a nightmare," says Murphy. Another problem will come when a defendant decides to plead guilty and the court wants to start the next case. "Right now, we can walk through the tunnel and in 15 minutes we can have a case started. But now, if that happens, if a guy pleads guilty, we'll have to go all the way out to Clayton to get the next guy. You're looking at maybe an hour, an hour-and-a-half longer before they can start another case."

Another worry is that unlike many of those at the city's other jail on Hall Street, the prisoners moving away from the old jail are "really hardcore" types. "We really got some bad actors there," says Murphy of the downtown jail. "If they know you're coming down Highway 40 every day, it's going to be a security risk for us." Murphy guesses that almost all of the downtown jail's prisoners are "high-risk" and guesses that "about 90 percent" are charged with murder. As he puts it, "In fact, we don't have no misdemeanor people anymore."

Murphy knows a new jail is needed; some cell doors don't even lock, as a result of the ground's shifting. The city is building a new jail, set to open in 2002. Murphy says he wishes that the current jail census could be reduced from 225 to about 150 instead of moving all the prisoners out to Clayton. But renting a floor of the county jail, followed by the demolition of the old jail for more Kiel parking, seems like a done deal.

 
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