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Reed introduces bill to close workhouse

CITY HALL – Two bills introduced in the Board of Aldermen by Aldermanic President Lewis  Reed call for closing the city’s controversial Medium Security Institution and using the money saved to establish a fund for reducing crime.  

One of those bills would direct the commissioner of corrections to provide a closing date for the Medium Security Institution as a place to hold detainees within 150 days of the measure’s effective date.  The facility at 7600 Hall St. has long been controversial.

The commissioner would have to provide a plan and a date to close the facility, also called the workhouse, to the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment.

“I have always been in favor of criminal justice reform. These bills will be a catalyst to a defined and organized process to effectively and safely close the workhouse while allowing for the funding of needed resources that are lacking in our community,” Reed said in a statement. 

A second bill introduced by Reed calls for using the money saved by the closing to establish a Neighborhood Crime Reduction Fund. The money would go to neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime. 

The city would still have to house detainees referred by the courts. 

City employees now working at the Medium Security Institution would be interviewed for fitness for vacant city civil service positions.

A two-thirds majority vote would be required in the Board of Aldermen for passage.

The board could vote to pass the legislation before its summer break at a special meeting set for July 14. The final meeting before the break had been scheduled for July 10. 

Several aldermen at Thursday’s board meeting complained about the last-minute notice for the July 14 meeting. They said it could hurt their vacation plans and asked what the meeting was for. Reed wouldn’t specify except to say that board members would know by looking at the current agenda what could come up.

“Nobody can tell you what the agenda’s going to be,” Reed said.

Board Clerk Terry Kennedy wrote in an email that the special meeting would allow more than the passage of Reed’s bills on the workhouse.

The main intent probably is to allow the time to pass about 30 bills that are still in the Engrossment and Enrollment Committee, Kennedy wrote.

Jacob Long, Mayor Lyda Krewson’s director of communications, was noncommittal on how the mayor might react to the bill.

“Mayor Krewson has made it very clear. She does not support putting dangerous criminals back on the streets. But she does support a comprehensive, safe, and deliberate evaluation and study of more potentially efficient uses of government resources,” Long said in a statement.

“In fact, Mayor Krewson is on record saying the City is already working toward revisioning our correctional facilities that could include operating only a single facility. But in order to get there, she has a duty to ensure the City responsibly balances the safety of the community with all our obligations to house detainees on serious felony charges under the law,” Long wrote. “Without having fully reviewed President Reed’s bill, it’s difficult to know if this proposed legislation actually accomplishes any of this.”

The mayor, Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green together make up the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. While Krewson’s support is uncertain, both Reed and Green support the bill to close the workhouse.

In a letter to the advocacy organization Close the Workhouse in April 2019, Green said the workhouse was “an obsolete facility, and closing it is both fiscally and morally responsible.”

The comptroller spoke in a statement on Thursday of her support for Reed’s bill.

“I am glad that progress is being made to put a plan in place to close the Medium Security Institution (MSI, ‘The Workhouse’). Close The Workhouse organizers deserve all the credit for this progress,” Green said.

“It has been my position since Close the Workhouse organizers first contacted me in 2019 that the City of St. Louis is ready to draw up a plan to close MSI. It is fiscally the right thing to do, and it is morally the right thing to do. I continue to support closing MSI; but we do not need to wait another six months or more to tell us what we already know,” Green said.

“CTW supporters, including myself, will continue to be vigilant and watchful as the plan moves forward,” Green said.

In a separate matter involving law enforcement, the board’s Public Safety Committee will discuss on Tuesday a resolution introduced by 16th Ward Alderman Tom Oldenburg to use cameras in airplanes and high places such as buildings in “persistent surveillance” of law areas to keep track of crime. 

A resolution Oldenburg introduced at Thursday’s Board of Aldermen meeting urged the mayor and public safety director to start talks with The Dr. Ross McNutt–Community Support Program on how to use this to fight crime. 

Last fall, McNutt told the Public Safety Committee that the Laura and John Arnold Foundation could pay the $1.6 million to $2.5 million yearly million cost, so long as they can get support and a memorandum of understanding from everyone involved.





Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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