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St. Louis finishes first round of safety upgrades at downtown jail

A new mezzanine connecting two watch areas, right, and new metal mesh over windows
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Security upgrades at the City Justice Center's recreation area include a new mezzanine connecting two watch areas, right, and new metal mesh over windows. Inmates will move back into the jail's third floor on Friday.

The first round of security and safety upgrades to the jail in downtown St. Louis is complete.

Inmates will move back into the third floor of the Criminal Justice Center on Friday. The timeline to finish the work on the remaining units is not yet clear.

“After decades of neglect, the city is working to upgrade our outdated facilities, and invest in our department of corrections, to ensure our corrections officers and detainees are safe and secure,” interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom said Wednesday.

The work, which will have cost $20 million when fully complete, includes new jail-grade locks on the doors, mesh on the windows and tables that are bolted to the floor. Guard workstations that were previously open to detainees are also now in secured spaces.

Security problems at the jail were laid bare last year when inmates twice broke out of their cells, smashed windows and in some cases set fires. They were protesting long stays due to court shutdowns and the way jail personnel were managing coronavirus outbreaks.

So in addition to making physical changes, the department made some policy adjustments, said Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah. She took it upon herself to begin going to meetings with the city’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and relaying information directly to inmate representatives.

“We go, and we see about them, and we talk to them and take their complaints seriously. And I think that was the beginning of tamping down their frustration,” Clemons-Abdullah said.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann 

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.