'Deplorable' St. Louis City Jail Conditions Lead to 6 Deaths in 5 Months

A letter issued this morning from lawyers and advocacy groups is calling on the mayor for reform

click to enlarge A St. Louis Sheriff's deputy and police SWAT supervisor look out of shattered window on February 6, 2021, at the City Justice Center.
A St. Louis Sheriff's deputy and police SWAT supervisor look out of shattered window on February 6, 2021, at the City Justice Center.

Six deaths have occurred at the St. Louis City Justice Center in the last five months, leading city public defenders and several criminal justice reform nonprofits to call on Mayor Tishaura Jones to reform the jail.

This morning the St. Louis City Office of the Missouri State Public Defender System, Action St. Louis, the ArchCity Defenders and several other criminal justice reform organizations signed on to a statement detailing what they call "deplorable" conditions at the jail and outlining steps they believe need to be taken toward reform.

The letter was drafted in response to the deaths of six detainees that have occurred at the jail since April.

"Due to the lack of transparency at CJC and the ongoing nature of many of these investigations, there is currently no certainty as to how each of these six people died," the letter says.

The letter cites detainees who say they were kept in their cells for all but one hour a day for months.

Detainees also stated that they were left on their own when emergencies occurred because buzzers in their cells used to alert staff were inoperable. "When buzzers fail, detainees knocking on doors and yelling for help also receive no response," the letter says.

One individual who was, until recently, detained at the jail told the ArchCity Defenders staff that the the city's jail was “inhumane, in a nutshell." He continued: "The intake room is about 6x8, and they’ll stuff like 15 to 20 people in there. People will be in the holding tank for weeks with the clothes they came in [with] on, with no blankets, and it’s cold. People will be sleeping on the floor. People who are addicts [and are] dope sick [will be] throwing up – [CJC doesn’t] separate them.”

The letter goes on to detail the "overwhelming number of reports" related to the use of chemical weapons, like pepper spray and bear mace, by staff on detainees.

The letter claims that these weapons are often used on individuals so tightly packed with others that there is significant collateral injury by detainees who are not even the weapons' intended target.

The letter goes on to demand that the jail administration release more details related to the six detainee deaths, an end its practice of 23 hour lockdowns. It also demands that those being held for a class D felony or less be released as they await trial.

Other signatories to the letter include Freedom Community Center, Metropolitan Congregations United, and the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center.

The RFT reached out to the city's Department of Public Safety for their response to the letter. We will update the story when we hear back.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected]
or follow on Twitter at @RyanWKrull.

About The Author

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times. Find him on Twitter @ryanwkrull
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