CITY HALL – A panel that investigated disturbances at the City Justice Center is recommending the establishment of an independent Corrections Oversight Board to watch over St. Louis’ corrections facilities.
The establishment of such a board is at the top of a list of 68 changes proposed by a Corrections Task Force that looked into recent violence at the justice center downtown. Members of the task force discussed their findings Tuesday with members of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee.
At the same time, Ward 23 Alderman Joseph Vaccaro, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, named on Tuesday a subcommittee of his panel to start the oversight process. It will include 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd; 26th Ward Alderwoman Shameem Clark-Hubbard; members of a Corrections Task Force on the justice center; and state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, among others.
Vaccaro said he wanted his subcommittee to start work immediately on work needed to establish a Corrections Oversight Board. He said he wanted the subcommittee to be up and running by the time the Board of Aldermen starts a new session late in April.
“We’re not slowing down,” Vaccaro said. “We’re going to hit the floor running in the new session.”
This would allow work to begin right away on a bill to set up a formal oversight board, along with another bill limiting the amount of time a person can be in a holding cell to 24 hours, Vaccaro said.
The board would be independent of the city’s government and would report to the mayor’s office. It could inspect the justice center and interview corrections officers and detainees. It also could investigate incidents and complaints.
The Rev. Darryl Gray, who chairs the task force, said his group felt that the detainees had made clear their concerns about conditions within the justice center, the services that were not being provided, including particularly the lack of a speedy trial.
The task force was also concerned about the lack of communication among correctional officials, city police and the sheriff’s department, Gray said.
Gray also said his group was worried that correctional officials had known that there were a number of broken locks in cells, which were a cause of the disturbances.
“We were concerned obviously about COVID and the impact on COVID within that building,” Gray said. “We were concerned if correctional officers and staff were being tested. We understand that with the test itself, you couldn’t make people test, but we were at least convinced that the test requirement for testing was being adhered to, that the supplies were there, and the ability to test was there.”
Another task force member, the Rev. Adolphus Pruitt, said the oversight panel would ensure that the detention facilities would be operated in accordance with the Constitution. The panel should ensure that the facilities meet or exceed standards for safety and security, he said.
As it is now, Pruitt said, the public is skeptical about the present forms of oversight.
“An outside oversight board could offer a significant opportunity for dialogue and demonstrate a willingness to work in a collaborative manner,” he said.