CITY HALL – Now that St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution is officially empty, the City Justice Center is at about 95 percent capacity, interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom said.
In a Zoom call with reporters last week, Isom said capacity had been about 90 percent. The much-criticized MSI has a combined staff from both facilities sufficient to deal with all the detainees.
But Isom wouldn’t rule out the possibility that one pod of the Medium Security Institution, also called the workhouse, might be used again on a limited basis.
“At this point in time, there isn’t a need for an overflow into that pod, but we are always planning for contingencies. If it’s needed, we will have it available.”
Isom said plans were to do a complete overhaul of the entire system at the City Justice Center.
“We have one pod on Hall Street that has been updated and renovated that we can use for overflow,” Isom explained.
“This is a major accomplishment, and we are pleased with our current progress,” Isom said on Thursday, the day the last round of detainees left the workhouse. This comes in spite of problems such as the case backlog brought on by COVID-19.
Isom said his department was working with the circuit attorney and U.S. attorney to try to clear the COVID-19 backlog of cases that has added to the number of detainees in city facilities. Also, the city is working to divert people who don’t belong in jail in the first place.
Mayor Tishaura Jones has emphasized what she sees as the importance of closing the workhouse.
“There has been a community outcry to close the outdated facility, which has been plagued with problems, unsanitary and inhumane conditions,” Isom said. “Throughout this process, the health and safety of detainees and the staff have been our top priority.”
Isom said that renovations at the City Justice Center were going well, including repairs needed because of damage caused by disturbances earlier this year. The completion of those renovations is a major part of rendering the workhouse obsolete.
Meanwhile, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed issued a statement condemning the emptying of the workhouse.
““This abrupt move to move all detainees from MSI into CJC does nothing to positively impact public safety or the lives of the citizens of the city of St. Louis,” Reed said. “The Board of Aldermen passed a law stipulating a responsible plan to close MSI. Today’s move by the mayor’s office falls short of a responsible plan.”
“This is not a better or more humane approach to detention,” the aldermanic board president said. “Detainees are now being moved hundreds of miles away from their families as they await their day in court. The detainees and staff at the CJC building will now face a situation of overcrowding, lack of proper segregation, and understaffing. It also eliminates rehabilitation programs that are critical to the mental wellbeing of detainees as well as the possibility of successful re-entry.”
Reed said it was irresponsible to make public safety professionals hold to a campaign promise that endangered detainees and guards.