Activists Blast Jail Conditions

NORTH RIVERFRONT – For decades, the St. Louis city jail, known as the Workhouse, has had a reputation for unsafe and unsanitary conditions and mistreatment of both detainees and staff. Launched last year, the Close the Workhouse campaign is dedicated to doing something about it.

Activists from the Close the Workhouse campaign have volunteered hundreds of hours at protests, met with government officials, and connected with people all over the region to address the conditions at the medium security jail.

Last month, the Close the Workhouse campaign released a report stating reasons why they think local elected officials, including Mayor Lyda Krewson, should close down the facility. It states that detainees and employees have reported conditions such as infestation of rats and mice, black mold, unsanitary food, roaches, inadequate medical care, defunct toilets, showers and sinks, and violence instigated by correctional officers.

Highlights from the report include: Almost everyone detained at the Workhouse has not been convicted of a crime; most individuals remain incarcerated because they cannot afford bond; nearly 90 percent of Workhouse detainees are African-American.

Last year, ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights firm, filed a class action lawsuit against the city for inhumane conditions at the Workhouse.

“This report highlights the systematic disparities and structural racism which has plagued our region for decades,” said Blake Strode, executive director of ArchCity Defenders, in a statement. “The Workhouse in many ways symbolizes these destructive forces.”

City officials countered the claims by saying the facility is old but reports of inhumane treatment and conditions are not true. Additionally, city officials said it’s not practical to close the city jail that houses about 550 inmates facing felony charges. Officials said they are weighing their options to ensure public safety first.

In an emailed statement to The NorthSider, Krewson said the city is addressing Workhouse conditions by working on reducing the population and improving conditions with new tax funding.

“We are committed to reducing the population in our City’s jails in safe and responsible ways,” the statement said. “Over the past 12 months, the City’s jail population has decreased 12%, mostly from the Medium Security Institution (MSI). We are continually looking for ways to keep the facilities at MSI up to date. The funds from Prop 1, which the voters overwhelmingly passed this summer, will allow us to make upgrades to further ensure those who remain at the facility have safe conditions.”

A workshop about prisons, policing and abolition designed for allies who want to learn more and contribute to the campaign to Close the Workhouse will be held Oct. 17 from 6:30-9:00 p.m. at the City Garden Montessori Charter School, 1618 Tower Grove Ave.

For more information about the Close the Workhouse campaign, go to

Ashley Winters

Ashley Winters is a staff reporter at The NorthSider. She's a north St. Louis native and a graduate of Columbia College Chicago. In the near future she plans to write and publish children's books. She can be reached at

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