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Corrections commissioner quitting as of May 31

CITY HALL – Under pressure from Mayor Tishaura Jones about conditions at the City Justice Center and the Workhouse, City Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass is quitting as of the end of May.

Jeff Carson, who has been superintendent at the Workhouse, has been appointed acting commissioner.

Glass was not asked to resign, said a news release from the mayor’s office that announced his departure. But the tone of the release made it clear that Jones wasn’t happy with Glass. 

“Failed leadership overseeing the City’s Corrections Division has left the City with a huge mess to clean up,” the mayor said in the news release.

“Between failing locks, lackluster maintenance, and subhuman conditions for the detainees under our care, it only further justifies my promise to shut down the Workhouse within my first 100 days,” Jones said in the release, referring to the institution officially known as the Medium Security Institution.

“We look forward to bringing effective leadership into the Corrections division that can account for these issues and raise the bar on effective management and oversight of the City Justice Center,” the mayor said.

A woman who answered the phone at the City Justice Center on Wednesday said Glass wasn’t available for comment.

While the mayor’s office announced the resignation of the chief corrections official in St. Louis, city officials refused on Wednesday morning to allow a group of reporters to tour the Workhouse with members of the aldermanic Public Safety Committee.

Heather Taylor, senior advisor to Interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom, speaks to the press on May 12, 2021.

Twenty-third Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro, who chairs the committee, had invited members of the media to come along, with the understanding they wouldn’t take pictures of inmates. However, the reporters were stopped at the metal detector inside the entrance and told they could not accompany the aldermen.

A noisy comfrontation ensued. 

“At the end of the day, this is about people in there that are detained for crimes that they either did commit or didn’t commit. So it’s about them,” said Heather Taylor, senior advisor to Interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom. “It’s not about them trying to make this a show.”

But Vaccaro said this was about transparency.

“There’s no reason that the media’s being blocked,” Vaccaro said. “Don’t bring your cameras. Let the media report on what they see without their cameras. They should be allowed in here.” 

At the end of the standoff, some of the members of the Public Safety Committee – but not a quorum – toured the facility. But the reporters didn’t. 

With only part of the committee going, the Public Safety Committee wasn’t officially meeting. In that case, the Sunshine Law’s requirement that reporters and the public must be allowed to attend meetings wasn’t in effect. 

Taylor said that Carson believed the facility should close. “He’s done his best to repair this place, and his conclusion is that it is not repairable,” she said.

But Vaccaro said some people were saying that the City Justice Center was in worse condition.

“They’re sleeping in a hole. It’s much worse than they were here,” Vaccaro said. “So don’t tell me we’re doing these people a big favor. With me, it is about the people, not the building.”

Nick Dunne, the mayor’s public information officer, said the deputy commissioner was not notified in advance of the media’s visit in line with department policy on news media. That policy requires the deputy commissioner or commissioner to approve requests in advance. 

The news release announcing Glass’s resignation quotes U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis, as saying: “The deplorable conditions we witnessed inside the City Justice Center and the Workhouse made clear that the City of St. Louis is in desperate need of new leadership in its corrections department.”

Bush said after a tour of the building that it was littered with trash and feces and that the food was an unidentifiable mush.

“No human being should be forced to shower with moldy water or have their health put at risk by an uncontrolled infectious disease outbreak,” Bush said. “No human being should be caged for weeks and months on end with little certainty of when and if they’ll ever see their family again. What we witnessed in those jails was unsafe, inhumane and tragic.”

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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