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St. Louis alderman wants DOJ to investigate city's Corrections Division

"Our detainees are revolting for a reason. We must listen. We must respond," St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammed said in his letter

ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis alderman has asked the U.S. Attorney General to send in the Department of Justice to investigate what’s causing detainees to repeatedly riot, fight and break out of their cells.

“We are continuing to see uprisings and revolts inside the City Justice Center and I think that issues like this, when it includes the safety of not only our detainees but of our correctional staff workers, we should do all we can to be transparent and make sure we are following every guideline and protocol necessary to keep the at-large population safe,” said Ald. John Collins-Muhammed, who sent the letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland Tuesday.

Collins-Muhammed copied Mayor Tishaura Jones, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, Public Safety Committee Chairman Alderman Joe Vaccaro, Senators Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley along with Representative Cori Bush on the letter.

Jones’ administration provided the following statement. 

“Our administration has prioritized transparency around the issues related to CJC with the public and the press, and will continue to do so while we upgrade the locking systems, push for fair and speedy trials as guaranteed by the Constitution, and emphasize restorative justice programs to help our returning citizens who have served their time from reentering the carceral system.”

Jones and Bush criticized the city’s other jail, known as the Medium Security Institution, for “inhumane conditions” there earlier this year, and Jones shuttered it July 1. That led to an influx of inmates to the downtown facility known as the CJC and pushed about 200 federal inmates out to other jails across the state, and, in some cases, out of state.

The CJC had already been the site of two riots after inmates exploited locks that had been faulty for years. Those riots included assaults on guards as well as inmates setting fires, breaking windows and throwing furniture and debris to the street below.

There have been other disturbances inside the facility within the past nine months, too.

The below video shows a fight among detainees on Aug. 13, 2021.

Collins-Muhammed said he thinks MSI was closed too soon given the issues with the downtown facility.

“What I do have a problem with is we have not thought about the consequences of closing MSI, it’s zeroed out so now when we have a big issue like this and we want to send inmates to another facility, we can’t do that because there’s no funding for it,” he said. “We have to be smart and look at all of the options and alternatives to remedy this problem and all that’s going on at the CJC.”

Jones’ administration has moved 89 inmates out of the downtown facility and back into a portion of MSI as repairs continue at the downtown facility.

Should the Department of Justice grant Collins-Muhammed’s request for a federal investigation into the situation, it will be the second time the issue has been studied.

Following one of the riots earlier this year, former Mayor Lyda Krewson commissioned a task force to study the issues leading to the uprisings.

The report laid some of the blame on Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Office for delays in moving court cases through the system along with COVID restrictions placed on inmates that limited their recreation time.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained an inaccurate number of inmates who have been transferred back to MSI from the CJC.

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