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Thursday, July 1, 2021

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, Public Safety Director Give Update on The Workhouse

Posted By on Thu, Jul 1, 2021 at 5:03 PM

click to enlarge The Workhouse, also known as the Medium Security Institution, has no budget and no inmates. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Danny Wicentowski
  • The Workhouse, also known as the Medium Security Institution, has no budget and no inmates.

Mayor Tishaura Jones campaigned on a promised to close the Workhouse. And today, the day of her self-imposed deadline, the notorious city jail is empty — but not completely closed.

“As of today, the budget for the Workhouse has been zeroed out and the facility stands empty,” Jones said in a press call. “But, to be clear, there’s still more work to be done.”



In recent weeks, the city has shifted detainees out of the Workhouse, officially named the Medium Security Institution, to its newer but still flawed jail, the City Justice Center.

Interim public safety Director Dan Isom, who was on the call, focused on updates and repairs in CJC. The downtown jail has been the site of multiple revolts since December, including two uprisings in early 2021 during which detainees were able to take over entire units, smash windows and hold corrections officers at bay for hours.

Following one of the uprisings, Isom's predecessor revealed that detainees could manipulate faulty locks and let themselves out as they wished.

Isom, who was appointed by Jones, said today that repairs are proceeding, noting that the windows on the front of the building have been fixed. All of the locks in the building have not been fixed, but Isom said those repairs are still ongoing. The director had previously given a timeframe of 48 weeks or longer to completely repair CJC. No more than two pods of the CJC go down for repairs at a time. Isom reported no current issues with the detainees getting out of their cells.

CJC also remains under capacity with 563 people currently held there. Isom credits a combination of the federal detainees being moved to other facilities and detainees being processed more rapidly.

As the city continues work on CJC, it has left one pod at the Workhouse open for overflow. Mayor's spokesman Nick Dunne said, “The one pod at the Workhouse is still an option for processing detainees in case of overflow,” but that the mayor is working with prosecutors and judges to ensure detainees are getting court dates more quickly, as well as investing in programs to keep people out of jail in the first place. The Workhouse hasn’t housed any detainees since the move.

Federal inmates have been moved to other facilities in outstate Missouri and other states, according to reports from KSDK. Isom said the city has been “identifying where the federal government is planning to send detainees on a consistent basis to help develop a more comprehensive and concrete plan to keep them connected to their lawyers and loved ones.”

Jones also pointed to the three-point plan highlighted by Isom two weeks ago when the last of the inmates had been moved out of the Workhouse. The first order of business was closing the Workhouse. Jones says she and her administration are still working on the next two points: clearing the COVID-19 backlog of cases with the help of the U.S. attorney and the St. Louis circuit attorney and limiting the contact people have with the incarceration system through different programs.

Jones added that her $80 million proposal addresses public safety improvements, including youth programming and community violence intervention.

As far as future plans for the Workhouse, there currently are none. As the budget moves into effect, the mayor has plans to invest in programs suggested by community members for how the city should repurpose the Workhouse, as well as the old police headquarters and the municipal court buildings. Dunne said during the call that the mayor’s office expects to start that process now that they have a budget plan.

Isom said the transition process from the Workhouse to the CJC has been “quite seamless,” thanks to the correctional officers.

“I have to credit the leadership and also the corrections officers. Change and change under these circumstances is often very difficult,” Isom said. “The correction officers and U.S. Marshals are very familiar with transporting detainees from different locations. Of course, this was more of a massive job than what they do on a daily basis, but it really was done very efficiently and with very few hiccups.”

Email the author at jenna@riverfronttimes.com
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