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St. Louis Board Of Aldermen Members Question Quick Closing Of The Workhouse

An activist campaign calls on city officials to shut down St. Louis' medium-security jail, commonly known as the Workhouse.
File Photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Some members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen are criticizing the city’s timetable for closing the city's Medium Security Institution known as the Workhouse.

Several members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen are criticizing the city’s plan to close the Medium Security Institution known as the Workhouse by July.

City officials discussed the Workhouse closing plan and safety concerns during the board’s Ways and Means Committee meeting Thursday. Corrections officials said they have begun transferring some Workhouse inmates to other facilities, including the St. Louis City Justice Center.

But some members of the Board of Aldermen said they’re concerned that moving inmates to the downtown jail could lead to overcrowded conditions there.

“I have some very serious concerns about this for both the safety of the inmates, the safety of the corrections officers and the others who work at the facility if we begin to put them together,” said Alderwoman Carol Howard, D-14th Ward. “I’m really thinking that we need a better plan to put this together and to close the Workhouse if that’s what we intend to do.”

St. Louis Acting Corrections Commissioner Jeffrey Carson said officials also are repairing the faulty locks damaged during recent uprisings at the City Justice Center.

“The unfortunate thing is we’ll be tight, and we’ll still be doing construction to try and get the building up to par to house the offenders,” Carson said.

Mayor Tishaura Jones announced in April that the Workhouse would close by July 1. Carson said he aims to close it before then.

Carson said that three of the units at the City Justice Center are out of use because of the recent uprisings and that several cells still need repairs. Some inmates at the center are temporarily being held in detention areas that are not designed to hold people for 24 hours, Carson said.

The repairs come after City Justice Center inmates escaped from their cells during several uprisings over the past six months to protest poor treatment at the jail. Some inmates are suing the city over jail conditions.

Other members of the Board of Aldermen said moving inmates to jails in surrounding counties would make it more difficult for family members of inmates to visit them.

“They're sending people far, far away," said Alderman Joe Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward. "There’s not going to be enough room."

St. Louis officials have said inmates will only be transferred to facilities within a 50-mile radius.

Some members of the Board of Aldermen also said they were concerned that the city doesn’t have enough corrections officers.

Interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom said officials are considering how they can retain officers and ways to increase retention and fill vacancies.

“We had this conversation this morning talking about increasing the number of people hired,” Isom said, “other strategies in terms of getting more personnel in the short term, taking care of our employees to make sure that we retain them and looking at ways in which we can further reduce the population inside the jail.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.