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Krewson Forms Task Force To Examine Jail Conditions After Justice Center Protest

Inmates the St. Louis City Justice Center smashed windows and lit furniture on fire during a protest Saturday, Feb. 7, 2021. It was the third protest in a little over a month over conditions inside the jail.
Bill Greenblatt
Inmates at the St. Louis City Justice Center smashed windows and lit cloth and a broom on fire during a protest over the weekend. It was the third protest in a little over a month over conditions inside the jail.

Updated Feb. 10 with comments about who will lead the task force:

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said Wednesday that Michael Wolff will not chair the task force. She said Wolff told her Tuesday evening that he wants to focus on long-term policy changes for criminal justice reform. She did not say who will replace him on the task force.

“The politics of an election cycle would make it very difficult to do any serious policy work in the next two months,” she said.

Original story from Feb. 8:

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson announced Monday that a task force will investigate public health concerns in the city’s downtown jail.

The move comes two days after 117 inmates at the City Justice Center broke out of their cells, knocked out windows and set fires to protest living conditions — the third protest since late December. Some inmates injured a corrections officer during the weekend protest; no inmates were injured.

But advocates for inmates doubt the task force will accomplish much. The task force will only examine the justice center and not the Medium Security Institution, known as the Workhouse.

Krewson chose Michael Wolff, a former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, to chair the task force. Wolff also is former dean of the St. Louis University Law School.

Advocates for inmates say the jail is not providing warm clothing or masks to protect against the coronavirus. They also say inmates want nutritional food and to be able to have visitors again.

St. Louis Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass insisted Monday that conditions are fine.

“Detainees say one thing and Dale and his corrections officers say another thing,” Krewson said. “But let’s see what it is. We believe that we run a very good operation here.”

Glass said the justice center’s medical staff makes three rounds a day, taking inmates' temperatures and administering medication. He estimates 85 inmates have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. Three inmates at the jail have the coronavirus, Glass said.

Jail officials are investigating how inmates were able to unlock cell doors, injure a guard and take control of the floor for nearly seven hours over the weekend, Glass said. Inmates have managed to pick the locks on cell doors since last spring, but the city has had trouble finding a company to fix the issue.

St. Louis Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass speaks about the living conditions at the City Justice Center during a press conference on Feb. 8, 2021.
Kayla Drake
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass speaks about the living conditions at the City Justice Center during a press conference on Monday.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced late Monday that her office plans to investigate conditions at the downtown jail.

“Violence of any kind, particularly against law enforcement officials, is unacceptable. We will ensure there is full accountability," Gardner said in a statement. "But while some are calling for the immediate prosecution of the detainees involved, this situation demands further scrutiny. Reports from the families of detainees, public defenders and other advocates raise serious questions about the underlying health and safety conditions at the City Justice Center.”

Tracy Stanton, the lead organizer for EX-incarcerated People Organizing, said she’s frustrated that the task force will not include anyone from her group or others that speak for inmates. But at least the inmates’ weekend protest got the city’s attention, she said.

“Now if they had not done that, it would have not warranted national attention and [the city] wouldn’t even be forced into the position to acquire [the current] task force,” she said. “I do not believe that they're just making false accusations for the sake of attention, because their lives are at stake.”

Several local groups including ArchCity Defenders, Close the Workhouse Campaign and the Bail Project have advocated for better jail conditions for years.

“We're the ones that are holding up the voices of the people that are incarcerated,” Stanton said. “We are the ones that are having conversations with the people.”

Stanton said she plans to address jail conditions with mayoral candidates running in the April race to and will continue to speak on behalf of the justice center's inmates.

Glass said police are trying to determine if anyone involved in the protest should be charged. The jail has thousands of dollars in damages, he said, but he did not give an estimate. The corrections officer was released from the hospital within hours.

The task force is supposed to turn in an initial assessment within a few weeks, Krewson said.

Others serving on the task force include NAACP St. Louis Chapter President Adolphus Pruitt; former Missouri Sen. Jamiliah Nasheed; Alderman Joe Vaccaro, D-23 Ward; Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward; former St. Louis health director Dr. Pamela Walker; the Rev. Charles Norris of St. James AME Church and Brad Hompe, a jail operations consultant from Wisconsin.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

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