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Chair of city Detention Facility Oversight Board calls for changes, corrections commissioner to resign

Leaders say they've been unable to get into the jail to do their job and investigate complaints.

ST. LOUIS — The chair of St. Louis' Detention Facility Oversight Board (DFOB), which was created to oversee conditions at jail facilities, says the group is being blocked from doing its job.

Now, the chair is calling on the jail commissioner to step down.

Janis Mensah said they were excited to be a part of the committee the mayor created once they got in office. Mensah says they've been unable to get into the jail consistently to investigate complaints ever since.

"Inhumane, subpar conditions,” Mensah claims.

Mensah said they take the role of chair of the city board seriously. That's why Mensah has recorded the number of complaints they have received.

I'm hearing that people are being denied daily showers … being kept in confinement of upwards of 23 hours … I'm hearing that people aren't having proper access to working phones so that they can call their family members [and] contact their lawyers," Mensah said.

At least six people died at the jail last year. It's why Mensah wants to get inside the facility.

"I’ve been allowed two tours and I've been blocked for five tours and that's over 300 days … I was actually pushed out of the unit when someone who was detained, started talking to me about the horrible conditions … We’ve asked many times for the use of force records, and we've been denied those as well,” Mensah said.

Now the chair of the jail oversight board is calling on Corrections Commissioner Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah to resign. 

Clemons-Abdullah did not respond to 5 On Your Side’s request for comment.
But the city responded. 

Nicole Franklin, with the Department of Public Safety (DPS), provided a statement, which reads:

“The Department of Public Safety hears the concerns of board members and will work through this transition period to bring the DFOB into compliance per its ordinance and make sure it can operate effectively as an oversight body. Per the ordinance, board members are required to complete orientation which includes a training at the City Justice Center (CJC). Orientation began last year, and one board member has completed said training from the CJC thus far."

"We feel like it's another way to obstruct us. We have been asking for orientation since day one, sending monthly reminders … They have just not done it. They've not scheduled it [or] responded to our many requests to complete our orientation. As time has gone on, more and more parts of the orientation have been added,” Mensah said.

It’s why the leader refuses to keep quiet.

"Ending those inhumane conditions starts with admitting that there are inhumane conditions. Allow the public to see those inhumane conditions, to investigate them and to go from there and we just haven't been able to do that in a year, which is why we think it's time the Warden is asked to resign," Mensah said. 

The DPS says it has full confidence in Clemons-Abdullah's ability to work with the oversight board. The board is planning to meet next week.

Below is the Detention Facilities Oversight Board Call for the Warden's Resignation:

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