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Frustration, anger spark another riot at Justice Center

ST. LOUIS — Another inmate riot at the St. Louis Justice Center on Sunday night brought chaos and further damages to the already struggling detention center across the street from City Hall. The riot underscores the conditions in the jail, which houses some 60 inmates on the second floor.

Just last month, a major riot revealed how cell door locks are unreliable and compromised, allowing inmates to be able to release themselves from their cells.

On Sunday, inmates broke windows, set a fire and threw chairs and other items out of a third-floor window.

At one point Sunday night, inmates lowered a rope made of tied-together bed sheets, though none tried to use it to escape.

People on the ground outside shouted support for the inmates. A group of 50 to 75 people were protesting conditions at the jail, which was the site of a similar uprising on Feb. 6.

The latest uprising began just before 9 p.m. on Sunday, About10:15 p.m., sheriff’s deputies in riot gear appeared. Firefighters used a hose to douse flames. The inmates moved away from the broken windows by about 10:30 p.m., according to news outlets.

Then, about 11 p.m., inmates broke windows on the other side of the jail and began throwing objects again. Thirty minutes later, the inmates had disappeared and officers could be seen inside.

Jacob Long, spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, said there were no reports of serious injuries.

Some inmates were heard yelling demands for court dates. Proceedings have been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Supporters of the inmates also have complained about what they perceive as lax COVID-19 protocols inside the jail, though city leaders have said there were virtually no cases of the virus among inmates.

The February uprising involved more than 100 inmates and sent one corrections officer to the hospital. Officials said detainees also were upset about conditions inside the jail and had concerns about COVID-19.

There have been at least four uprisings at the jail since December.

A task force was appointed to look into issues at the jail. Its chairman, the Rev. Darryl Gray, issued a report last month urging the city to set up an independent board to help oversee the lockup.

“What happened last night was avoidable,” Gray said Monday. “If the mayor and the commissioner for corrections had implemented the 13 urgent recommendations that were submitted by the task force, then they would have shown the detainees some good faith in responding to their concerns. And that has not been done.”

City leaders have confirmed previously that some cells don’t lock properly at the jail. Gray said it was remarkable that the city would keep detainees in a cell with broken locks.

“You have younger detainees who are simply frustrated for being locked up over 23 hours a day,” Gray said. “You can’t get to court. You don’t have visits. You don’t have enough time for recreation.”

Both candidates for St. Louis mayor – Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alderman Cara Spencer – criticized the correctional system.

Jones issued a statement Monday saying that she was “horrified and deeply frustrated by the cries for help coming from those being held within the City Justice Center.” She called for an immediate change in the city’s justice system and said that a “clear chain of command” was needed.

Spencer said in her own statement that clearly the city was failing to ensure the safety of the jail’s staff and inmates. Spencer said she was committed to “competent and humane administration” of the jail and the closure of the city’s Medium Security Institution, a second city jail that’s commonly known as the Workhouse.

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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