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Workhouse closing went smoothly, Isom reports

Jones cites reimagining of public safety in St. Louis

CITY HALL – On the day St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution was officially without funding, interim Public Safety Director Dan Isom reported that the City Justice Center is below capacity and has a slight shortfall in guards.

“We remain under capacity as CJC, and we are working with City’s web team to ensure that the data on the city’s website accurately reflects the current population,” Isom said. “The staffs at the CJC and MSI have been fully consolidated. And since we last spoke two weeks ago, MSI has remained empty.”

In a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday, Isom gave a generally positive report on the transition from two jail facilities to one. He reported that 563 detainees were at the justice center, and that the capacity is 658. .

Isom gave the report on the day the new 2021-2022 budget took effect. In keeping with Mayor Tishaura Jones’ goal of closing the often-criticized Medium Security Institution, the new budget did not contain any money for MSI, commonly called the workhouse. 

Combining the staffs at the Medium Security Institution and the City Justice Center has brought the City Justice Center’s level of employees close to adequate levels, Isom said.

“As a result of doing that, we have adequate staffing for one facility. We are not at full capacity, but we are adequately staffed, and we are graduating corrections officers, personnel, as we speak,” Isom said. 

The justice center is about 20 short of the 186 correctional officers it needs to be at full capacity, Isom said. A class is being trained to provide more correctional officers.

Isom also said that important repairs at the City Justice Center were going well. Windows on the front of the building, broken in disturbances earlier this year, have been fixed. 

While all of the previously defective locks have been fixed, “What we do is, we have processes in place now where locks are being checked and doors are being checked on a regular basis,” Isom explained. No inmates have gotten out of their cells.  The repairs have cost about $7 million, Isom noted.

About 300 detainees were moved from the workhouse to the justice center.

“It really was quite a seamless process,” Isom said.

Jones said the budget included some of her other priorities, including finding money for a Division of Supportive Reentry to cut the recidivism rate and expanding the Civilian Oversight Board so it also oversees corrections. 

Jones said those were just a few steps toward reimagining public safety in St. Louis.

Other measures include working with judges and U.S. and circuit attorneys to get people their court dates more quickly, especially because of the backlog caused by COVID-19.

“We need to limit the contact people have with our incarceration system in the first place,” she said. 

Jones also stressed the importance of passing her proposal for passing the $80 million direct relief package for COVID-19 funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. 

Among other things, it includes money for youth programming, summer jobs and community violence interruptions, vaccination clinics and economic relief. She criticized Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed for delaying the passage of this measure.  

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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