CoronavirusCrimeNewsThe SouthSider

Corrections task force will scrutinize jail concerns

CITY HALL – A new corrections task force will examine conditions and operations at the City Justice Center and will assess complaints or concerns. The move, announced Monday by Mayor Lyda Krewson, comes after this weekend’s disturbance at the jail, at 200 S. Tucker Boulevard downtown.

More than 100 detainees were able on Saturday to get out of their cells, smash windows and set fires. A corrections officer was injured and hospitalized but is expected to recover.

Advocates for inmates on Sunday said the uprising was “an act of courage” that was necessitated by inmates’ basic needs not being met, including a lack of personal protective equipment to help stave off a coronavirus outbreak.

Shortly after Krewson’s announcement, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner launched her own investigation.

Gardner, in a statement, called the weekend incident and other recent protests inside the jail “deeply troubling” and said her office’s investigation would focus on the circumstances that led to the actions.

“We will ensure there is full accountability,” Gardner said. “But while some are calling for the immediate prosecution of the detainees involved, this situation demands further scrutiny.”

She cited concerns raised by relatives of detainees, public defenders and advocates about conditions, “including whether or not appropriate protocols have been followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Krewson said the city’s new task force would be chaired by former Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael A. Wolff. He is also a professor and dean emeritus at Saint Louis University School of Law.

“I want to extend my gratitude to Judge Wolff for agreeing to chair this
important task force,” Krewson said in a statement. “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.”

Other members of the corrections task force include:

• Adolphus Pruitt, president, St. Louis NAACP
• Jamilah Nasheed, former Missouri senator, 5th District
• Alderman Joe Vaccaro, chair, Board of Aldermen Public Safety Committee
• Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, vice-chair, Board of Aldermen Public Safety Committee
• Dr. Pamela Walker, public health executive
• The Rev. Charles Norris, pastor, St. James AME Church
• Brad Hompe, consultant, criminal justice systems and jail operations

Krewson has asked the task force for an initial assessment of its findings in the next few weeks.

An advocate for inmates, Tracy Stanton of Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing St. Louis, said the inmates rioted in part because they lack adequate heat in cells and personal protective equipment to protect against COVID-19. The uprising “was an act of courage that was staged to reinforce these issues because their needs are still not being met,” Stanton said.

City officials say that there are no positive cases among the general population, and that inmates are provided with adequate PPE and are tested upon request.

But activist Inez Bordeaux, of the legal aid group Arch City Defenders, said she had taken calls on the organization’s jail hotline and heard from dozens of detainees who said they had no access to COVID-19 testing or PPE.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Staff is home to The NorthSider and The SouthSider weekly community newspapers. The SouthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Tuesday. The NorthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Thursday. They are distributed at over 600 locations across St. Louis.

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