© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

St. Louis jail oversight board board members claims corrections leader has blocked them

Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah speaks to the media
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah turns to the camera as media ask questions regarding the City Justice Center’s upgrades in May 2022 outside the jail in downtown St. Louis. The city's detention facilities oversight board has called on city officials to compel the Division of Corrections to provide requested documentation on the St. Louis City Justice Center.

Members of the St. Louis Detention Facilities Oversight Board are calling on Mayor Tishaura Jones or public safety officials to order corrections officials to give the board documents it needs to investigate conditions at the St. Louis City Justice Center.

Board members say Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah has obstructed the board's efforts to obtain information on the jail.

In a statement, board members said jail officials have repeatedly failed to respond to requests for information.

The board also asks the mayor and the city's Public Safety Department to compel the Division of Corrections to respond to future requests within 10 days and ensure board members have consistent access to jail detainees.

“We have not been able to fulfill our duties as public servants properly due to the consistent blocks from the Division of Corrections and barriers from the City Counselor's Office,” oversight board members wrote.

An ordinance establishing the nine-member board was approved by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen last year to investigate complaints of official misconduct at the city’s jail and issue subpoenas. It can also request visits inside the jail. Board members said they’ve been met with a “pattern of resistance” from Clemons-Abdullah.

Upgraded tables and features to the City Justice Center
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Upgraded tables and features to the City Justice Center are pictured in May 2022 at the jail in downtown St. Louis.

Clemons-Abdullah could not be reached for comment. A spokesperson from the mayor's office provided a letter the city’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council recently sent to the oversight board noting that it aims to train board members on jail procedures and allow visits while board members are being trained. The letter also requests the board develop rules and procedures for processing complaints.

Civilian Oversight Board Commissioner Matthew Brummund has sent Clemons-Abdullah emailed questions from the Detention Facilities Oversight Board for corrections policies on suicide prevention, detainee and corrections officer drug screenings, questions on corrections processes and procedures. The Detention Facilities Oversight Board also asked for a status update on the recommendations detailed by the Corrections Task Force Report in 2021. Brummund emailed the request to Clemons-Abdullah on Nov. 29, 2022.

The city counselor's office responded to Brummund’s email on Jan. 9 with Clemons-Abdullah’s answers, which included links to policies online. The city counselor also noted that Clemons-Abdullah couldn’t answer all of the questions regarding the recommendations since some were directed to other city departments.

Mensah said they’ve requested tours of the jail seven times and have been denied five times.

“It's a failure on many parts, not following the ordinance in what we said we were going to do with this partnership,” Mensah said.

The board’s statement also demands that corrections officials grant board members Barbara Baker and Mike Milton access to the jail. It follows accusations from board members that corrections officials have denied Baker and Milton access because they work in criminal justice.

Mensah said denying Baker and Milton access is in direct opposition to the city’s ordinance establishing the board.

“We're simply asking that the ordinance be respected and that our authority, and the reason that we are here, be respected,” Mensah said.

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