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Money meant for 'The Workhouse' could be redirected to St. Louis community policing program

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said the newest proposal reduces the budget for the Medium Security Institution by another $860,000

ST. LOUIS — The proposed budget for the City of St. Louis has further cut funding to the often controversial medium-security jail most commonly known as “The Workhouse”.

Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Lyda Krewson announced a budget change to the proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget. The city already proposed reducing The Workhouse budget by nearly half from $16 million to $8.8 million.

The newest proposal calls for reducing the budget by an additional $860,000. That money would be redirected to the St. Louis Department of Health “to fund a new model of community policing known as ‘Cops and Clinicians,’ the city said in a news release Wednesday afternoon.

St. Louis has previously tested the program twice. It calls for using highly trained and experienced community support workers and mental health providers to work side-by-side with St. Louis police officers in District 1 and District 6, the farthest south and north districts, respectively.

The program was successful when it was tested out previously and received positive public feedback, said Mayor Krewson’s Director of Communications Jacob Long.

“The general idea is to have these workers address the root causes of crime and violence by having them focus more on the socioeconomic and behavioral health issues that often result in a 911 call,” Long said in a news release.

Protesters have called for the city to close The Workhouse. Everyone held there is still awaiting trial — either without bail or because they can't afford to pay bail. Critics say conditions are unacceptable. 

"The Workhouse is a symbol of oppression in St. Louis and it has been since before I was even born," said Alderwoman Cara Spencer, a Democrat who represents Ward 20 and is running for mayor.

READ MORE: Alderwoman: Closing 'The Workhouse' is a moral and financial imperative

Spencer called on Mayor Krewson, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green — who control the budget — to defund The Workhouse at their Wednesday Board of Estimate and Apportionment meeting.

"It's an easy way to identify a clear way of saving money and engaging in some healing of our community and moving forward," said Spencer.

RELATED: St. Louis mayor: COVID-19 has led to 'very, very serious revenue declines'

The alderwoman said if the city canceled its contract with the federal government to house detainees, the population of The Workhouse would be easy to move to the city's main jail downtown.

But the mayor's office said it's not that easy and that just because there are beds available at the main facility does not mean there is room to move everyone out of The Workhouse.

"The people who are housed at The Workhouse are people who have been charged with murder, rapes, robberies," said Judge Jimmie Edwards, who serves as the mayor's director of public safety.

Edwards said the city has already reduced the population of The Workhouse by half. Still, of the 220 federal prisoners the city is housing, more than 170 would still be the city's responsibility even without the federal contract. Edwards said that is because those detainees are also being held on state charges for crimes committed in the city.

And Edwards said there is no room to move detainees to the city's main jail.

"Capacity is very complex," said Edwards. "We have to separate women from men, we have to separate warring gang members," and a host of other factors Edwards said requires the city to have more beds than detainees.

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