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St. Louis Aldermen Vote To Close Workhouse, Delay Action on Airport Privatization

The city plans to cut funding for the Workhouse from $16 million to $8.8 million due to declining inmate counts.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted to close the Medium Security Institution in north St. Louis known as the Workhouse. Activists have been calling for its closure for years.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a bill Friday that will close the north St. Louis jail known as the Workhouse.

The board was also expected to take a vote on asking residents to consider privatizing St. Louis-Lambert Airport but it was tabled. Unless another special meeting is called, aldermen are now on summer recess until September.

The Workhouse closure is a major win for activists and advocates who have fought to close the jail for years. The bill calls for the development of a plan to close the jail by Dec. 31. The Close The Workhouse Campaign has spearheaded reform efforts and includes ArchCity Defenders, the Bail Project-St. Louis and Action St. Louis.

The bill’s passage “is a historic step towards justice, equity and re-envisioning public safety in the city of St. Louis,” said Action St. Louis Co-founder and Executive Director, Kayla Reed in a statement. “Our campaign has always called for the closure of Workhouse as a means to invest directly into communities and this legislation does that with the creation of the Division of Supportive Re-entry and Reimagining Public Safety Fund.”

Activists have long criticized the living conditions for detainees at the Workhouse. The institution houses many people who cannot afford bail and have not been convicted of a crime.

Besides ordering the jail to close by the end of the year, the bill calls for significant criminal justice reforms and an investment in communities affected by mass incarceration. The bill establishes a fund to support communities affected by incarceration and violent crimes and calls for hiring social workers to assist detainees and their families. The St. Louis Department of Personnel will also assist employees in finding new jobs.

Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said Friday’s vote is a step in the right direction.

“We need to continue to push for additional criminal justice reform so that we can see a system that no matter who you are when you come in contact with it, it's going to be a fair, just equitable system,” Reed said. “We’re not there yet, but it shows what we can do when we work together when we have activism and everything all playing a role.”

The bill will now be sent to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson. A statement from the mayor’s office said the bill “is consistent with the direction Mayor Krewson has been moving in over the last three years. She does not support putting dangerous criminals back on the streets. But she does support a comprehensive, safe, and deliberate evaluation and study of more potentially efficient uses of government resources.”

The statement also said “we look forward to reviewing the bill in more detail in the coming days.”

Airport privatization efforts

The board also spent significant time discussing privatization of Lambert. A bill was presented to the board that would have put the issue of airport privatization on the November ballot. But the bill was put back on the informal calendar for future consideration following extensive debate. A separate ballot issue on the airport may be on the November ballot.

The board is scheduled to return for session Sept. 18.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

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