CrimeNewsPoliticsThe SouthSider

Corrections budget is $6.7 million short

CITY HALL – A budget shortfall for corrections and the emptying of the city’s Medium Security Institution is a recipe for disaster, some members of the Board of Aldermen’s budgeting committee say.

“I have a lot of trepidation over what’s going to happen in the next 28 days,” committee member Jeffrey Boyd, an alderman representing the 22nd Ward, said at the panel’s meeting on Thursday. 

Members of the group, officially called the Ways and Means Committee, expressed concern as it interviewed Acting Public Safety Director Dan Isom and Jeffrey Carson, acting corrections commissioner, about the proposed Correction budget. The committee is holding a series of hearings on the budget of various city agency budgets for the year starting July 1. 

“We all voted to close the Medium Security [Institution],” 19th Ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis said. “But we also said that we would have a plan.”

Some aldermen were especially concerned about the fact that spending in the corrections budget would exceed revenue by $6.7 million. That reduction would make it easier to hold all detainees in the City Justice Center downtown, officials said. 

“The reason is that Corrections is no longer planning on housing federal detainees,” Budget Director Paul Payne said in an email. “The budget had estimated revenues of $6.7 milllion in revenues from federal per firm payments.”

The city plans to drop the federal detainees to make it easier to fit former detainees of the Workhouse into the City Justice Center along with justice center detainees once the Workhouse closes.  

Following the lead of Mayor Tishaura Jones, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment recently removed the $7.8 million budget  for the Medium Security Institution – the Workhouse – from the budget for the year starting July 1. That would force the workhouse to close.

At the same time the City Justice Center’s budget would increase to $28 million from $21.5 million.

The E&A board, made up of the mayor, the comptroller and the Board of Aldermen’s president, is the chief budgeting board of the city. 

“That’s going to have to be resolved right now in terms of this gap,” Payne said. “That’s up to elected officials about what the decisions are regarding this facility.”

However, he noted, it’s important to be straightforward about what the fiscal impacts are. 

Boyd criticized the budget plan, saying, “It’s so easy to say we need to shut down the Workhouse at whatever cost. That was not well thought out. Yes, moving federal detainees was the swiftest way to bring the population down. Yet it was generating more revenue by housing than the state prisons.

“That makes no sense to me, that we would rush to do that just to keep a campaign promise.”

Carlson, the former superintendent of the Workhouse, replaced former Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass after he resigned under pressure from the mayor.

Carlson said that there now were 551 detainees in the City Justice Center and 93 in the Workhouse, for a total of 644. The rated capacity is 1,181 and 1,432, respectively, using all spaces including holding cells. 

A request to the mayor’s office for a comment was not returned.

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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