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Inmates, city leaders differ on St. Louis City Justice Center conditions, mayor announces task force

The task force will be independently reviewing current conditions inside the justice center and assessing any complaints or concerns

ST. LOUIS — Several St. Louis city leaders held a press conference on a riot that happened at the St. Louis City Justice Center over the weekend.

Editor's note: 5 On Your Side asked to livestream this briefing in real time, but we were told we couldn't by the mayor's spokesperson.

On Feb. 6, inmates had broken several windows on an upper floor of the justice center. They chanted and held signs. Several things were also set on fire and thrown out of the windows. Chairs and other items littered the street below the windows, and at least one car had a shattered windshield. This lasted for several hours. One guard was hurt during the incident, but has since returned to work.

Inmates at the justice center call the conditions inside the center inhumane. 

Christopher Winston is an activist in St. Louis.

"They are already in jail, no one wants to be in jail. You have people confined under these conditions... you ignore them and blow off their concerns and act like they are animals in a zoo. Saturday is what's going to happen," Winston said.

On Feb. 6, the city's public safety director Jimmie Edwards said the detainees were able to "jimmy their locks" and that the locks don't necessarily lock. Edwards also said that there were no known COVID-19 cases among inmates.

During Monday's briefing, leaders said they knew about the locks going back to pre COVID-19 days but said they were "isolated incidents." 

St. Louis Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass said the jail is moving quickly to find a solution after a few other ideas haven't worked.

Mayor Lyda Krewson said the city is starting a task force to look into what occurred on Feb. 6. The task force will be independently reviewing current conditions inside the justice center and assessing any complaints or concerns.

It'll be chaired by former Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael A. Wolff.

“First and foremost, I want to extend my gratitude to Judge Wolff for agreeing to chair this important task force," Krewson said. "The City takes very seriously the health and safety of the individuals who the courts have determined need to be held pretrial. We believe that our Corrections Division is running a professional and capable operation under the leadership of Commissioner Dale Glass. We are aware of the concerns that have been raised in the community and the media and expect the task force to investigate.”

In addition to Judge Wolff, members of the corrections task force include:  

• Adolphus Pruitt, President, City of St. Louis NAACP
• Jamilah Nasheed, retired Missouri State Senator, 5th District
• Alderman Joe Vaccaro, Chair, Board of Aldermen Public Safety Committee
• Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, Vice-Chair, Board of Alderman Public Safety Committee
• Dr. Pamela Walker, Public Health Executive
• Rev. Charles Norris, Pastor, St. James AME Church
• Brad Hompe, Criminal Justice Systems and Jail Operations Consultant 

Congresswoman Cori Bush sent a letter to Mayor Lyda Krewson, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass on Monday.

“Per comments made by city officials during a press briefing on Saturday, the uprising involving 117 people is the third such event at CJC since December,” Bush wrote. “It comes as tensions flare within the jail over health risks due to jail conditions and the rapid spread of COVID-19. Further, many of the people detained at the Justice Center are still awaiting court dates and have not been convicted of any crimes. This presents serious concerns around efforts to mitigate the risk of an outbreak as people cycle in and out of these facilities each day.”

Bush requested a response to the letter no later than Feb. 15. 

Monday evening, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced an investigation into what happened on Feb. 6.

Below is Gardner's full statement: 

“The incidents that have occurred at the City Justice Center over the past several days are deeply troubling, and my office will open an investigation into the circumstances that led to these events. Violence of any kind, particularly against law enforcement officials, is unacceptable. We will ensure there is full accountability. 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, including whether or not appropriate protocols have been followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. What happened at the jail cannot be properly understood without a full examination of these issues. Even in the absence of a deadly global pandemic, it is no secret that jails are often inhumane facilities which fail to meet basic public health standards. That is why my office will also be investigating any public health or other human rights violations committed against detainees, and how those may have contributed to the unrest.

I am particularly concerned about the risk that COVID-19 poses to detainees. As I said in a letter to Mayor Krewson and Public Safety Director Edwards back in April 2020, jails are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks, which calls for an increase in testing and other social distancing measures.

Not only does the public deserve answers to these questions, the legitimacy of our criminal legal system depends on it, and I intend to follow the facts wherever they lead.”

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