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‘Close The Workhouse’ Referendum Scuttled As Ballot Deadline Passes

The city plans to cut funding for the Workhouse from $16 million to $8.8 million due to declining inmate counts.
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
A nonbinding referendum on the closure of the Medium Security Institution, shown in 2018, will not be on the ballot in April.

Updated Feb. 11 with deadline for court action passing

An effort to have St. Louis voters weigh in on the closure of one of the city’s two jails is over for now.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Lyda Krewson confirmed Thursday that she has not yet taken action on legislation setting a nonbinding “Close the Workhouse” referendum for April. That means supporters have missed a Feb. 9 deadline to have a judge place the item on the ballot.

Supporters of the referendum say it would have provided a clear picture of public support for closing the jail, known officially as the Medium Security Institution. Opponents call it unnecessary and an effort to reverse a unanimous board vote last July to shutter the building by Dec. 31, 2020.

It remains open, because corrections officials say transferring all inmates to the downtown jail would cause overcrowding. Recent protests at that jail, including one on Saturdaythat injured a guard, have complicated the conversation around closing the Workhouse.

Original story from Jan. 29

With some opposition, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday approved asking voters to consider a nonbinding referendum to close the north St. Louis jail known as the Workhouse.

Aldermen voted 16-11 to have St. Louis residents weigh in on the longstanding issue. Activists have called the jail dangerous and unneeded.

The board approved the closure of the Workhouse this summer and agreed to develop a plan for the jail before Dec. 31, 2020, which has not been done.

Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, said placing the referendum before voters will not halt the process of closing the Workhouse. He said it will help the effort.

Some aldermen said sending the issue to voters is unnecessary.

Alderwoman Annie Rice, D-8th Ward, voted against creating the referendum. She wants to follow through on the commitment to develop a plan for the Workhouse.

The deadline to place a referendum on the April 6 ballot has passed, so it’s unclear when residents would be able to vote. Because it's past the state election deadline, the city would need a judge to approve putting it on the ballot.

Also, Mayor Lyda Krewson would need to sign the bill authorizing the resolution, and she has not yet announced a position on it.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.