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After Jail Unrest, St. Louis Task Force Chair Calls For New Urgency — And New Management

Inmates at the St. Louis Justice Center gather around the third floor window on April 4, 2021. Inmates appeared to throw objects out of the windows and start a fire
Inmates at the St. Louis Justice Center gather around a third-floor window on Sunday. Inmates appeared to throw objects out of the windows and start a fire

Since late December, five protests have erupted at the City Justice Center in downtown St. Louis. The latest came Sunday night, when a group of detainees broke windows on the third floor and threw objects to the streets below. Inmates could be heard chanting “We need help” and “We want court dates.”

The number of people being incarcerated pre-trial in St. Louis, as well as the amount of time they spend waiting for trial, is one of the main focuses of a recent task force report looking into unrest at the jail. Commissioned after detainees seized control of a floor of the jail for hours on Feb. 6, the report contained 68 recommendations — 13 of them considered urgent.

But the chair of the St. Louis Corrections Task Force, the Rev. Darryl Gray, said on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air that none of the recommendations in the March 12 report is being implemented with the necessary urgency.

“When you continue to put detainees in cells that you know can be manipulated, when you have not moved through the justice system a lot quicker since the February 6 riots, when you still haven’t given detainees the proper visitation with their families and time out of their cells,” he said — noting that detainees are still restricted to their cells for 23 hours at a time due to COVID-19 precautions — “these were the things that we identified as being the problem, the initiator of the problem, in February and before.

“We hear from management that, ‘We’re following through with some of these things,’” Gray said, “but obviously it’s not moving quick enough.”

He said it’s past time for the city to take action.

“The senior management in the correctional center right now,” said Gray, referring to Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass, “has been derelict in his duties to move forward with any urgency as it relates to what’s happening there right now.”

What needs to happen immediately, Gray said, is the creation of an independent oversight board with subpoena power and unrestricted access to detainees. Previously, Gray said, his task force was hamstrung by limited access to both detainees and the facilities.

Mayor-elect Tishaura Jones has indicated her support of such a committee. Gray said the St. Louis Board of Aldermen also appears to be on board.

“We’re hoping that [the Public Safety Committee] can meet within the next couple of days, and at least put together a framework for that oversight committee,” he said.

Gray added that Jones is also responsible for selecting a new public safety director for the city.

“And that public safety director should give Commissioner Glass two options,” he said. “Resign or be fired.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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