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Audit finds improved conditions at St. Louis County jail, but staffing issues remain

St. Louis County is interested in joining a statewide eletronic monitoring program for people awaiting trial once Missouri gets it up and running.
Sarah Fentem
St. Louis Public Radio
An outside review of the St. Louis County jail has found an overall well-run facility that still faces staffing challenges.

An outside review of St. Louis County’s jail says that the facility is still understaffed, but that conditions have improved over the past three years.

CGL Companies presented the audit to the county’s Justice Services Advisory Board on Friday, nearly two years after the board first requested an outside review. The county council approved the contract in November, and the consulting firm began its work in January.

“When we went into this, based on a lot of the media attention, we were expecting, frankly, a pretty grim situation,” said Karl Becker, the company’s senior vice president. “We were pleasantly surprised.”

The firm’s biggest concern is understaffing, Becker said. Normal operations at the jail, which would allow for regular recreation periods, would require 346 correctional officers. The county has only budgeted for 266, and 30 positions are currently vacant. The report recommended slowly ramping up staffing, by hiring 15 to 20 new officers a year.

Federal ARPA coronavirus relief funds have provided a temporary boost in salary, making the county jail one of the highest-paid facilities in the state. Scott Anders, the director of Justice Services, has also implemented an apprenticeship program that offers college credits and hiring bonuses.

But the county’s budget will have major deficits over the next two years, and ARPA funds are only available until 2024.

Other recommendations included updating use-of-force and emergency response policies. CGL also noted that the organization seemed top-heavy and that communication through the chain of command was often unclear.

Becker said Anders had already begun adopting some of the recommendations.

The Justice Services Advisory Board first demanded an outside review in August 2020, following a period of turmoil at the jail, located in downtown Clayton across from the county’s headquarters.

In 2019, five inmates died either while at the facility or shortly after leaving. Internal reports found that jail employees should have listened to the men, who told guards or other staff they were not feeling well.

Becker did not specifically address those deaths, or the policies that may have contributed to them, in his presentation. But he said jail administrators needed to make sure that sick calls from inmates are taken 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are triaged within 24 hours.

In August 2020, Raul Banasco, who was hired as jail director to provide stability, resigned after allegations that he created a hostile work environment.

Becker said it was fair to say that staff were traumatized by Banasco’s term. And CGL’s report found that staff continue to perceive favoritism, especially when it comes to promotions.

But, he said, the hiring of Anders in October 2021 has brought stability to the Department of Justice Services.

“When we talked to staff, we heard a lot of hope that things were getting better,” Becker said. “Certainly, the environment that existed two to three years ago is not what you have there now.”

Becker and other members of the CGL team will answer questions from board members at a meeting next month.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann 

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