Protesters in St. Louis Demand Better Jail Conditions Following 2 Uprisings by Detainees

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In the last two months, the St. Louis City Justice Center has been the site of two uprisings by detainees demanding speedy trials and better conditions. Their pleas were effective, as a group of protesters gathered outside the jail this week and demanded better conditions for those held inside.


According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, about 50 protesters gathered outside of City Hall on Monday and marched to the Justice Center. They held signs and chanted for pre-trial detainees to receive quick court dates. “This needs to be addressed and no one else is addressing it,” organizer Sarah Avery told the news outlet. “These detainees are crying for your help.”

Part of what makes this situation so terrible is that jail is generally where people are held when they’re awaiting court dates. A lot of these folks haven’t been convicted of a crime, and they are likely being detained for low-level offenses, so there’s a high chance that, given the court delays that have stemmed from the ongoing pandemic, there are people who may have been detained for a longer period of time than the crimes they’re accused of may even warrant.

In addition to wanting speedy trials, detainees and protesters also want conditions improved inside the jail. Security at the Justice Center was under scrutiny as the locks were long known to be sub-par, with detainees being able to jimmy them open during the two uprisings.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Since the city’s Corrections Task Force submitted its report on jail conditions to Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office in March, corrections officials have expanded recreational time for inmates. In-person visits have restarted, city officials said, and soon inmates should have the option to video chat with family using portable tablets. Facility locks are being fixed, as well, officials say.

We have implemented or are implementing many (recommendations),” mayoral spokesman Jacob Long said. “When it comes to the infrastructure of the building, those repairs have begun and are continuing.”

The task force is working toward introducing an ordinance to form an oversight body for corrections operations, task force Chairman Darryl Gray said.

“What we’re making very clear is the need for subpoena power and the need for unrestricted access (for the oversight board),” Gray said Monday.


Gray told the Post-Dispatch that while he’s been encouraged by the moves that have been made by the current mayor and that of incoming Mayor Tishaura Jones, there still needs to be better communication from city officials about what changes are being made and how long it will take for them to go into effect.

“One frustration the task force continues to have is that the [aldermanic] public safety committee and corrections did not make it publicly known what recommendations had been implemented or where they were as far as getting those implemented,” Gray told the news outlet. “We continue to hear from advocacy groups and family members of the people detained without having any information to share with them as to what kind of progress is being made.”


St. Louis Circuit Court spokesman Thom Gross told the Post-Dispatch that jury trials delayed due to the pandemic had resumed in late March. “We’re moving as fast as we can given the constraints set by the Missouri Supreme Court, the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the city health department,” Gross said.

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Makes Me Wonder Why I Even Bring The Thunder

I don’t know that the whole “soon inmates should have the option to video chat with family using portable tablets” thing should have passed without additional comment. It appears that the technology has some positive impact on inmates maintaining outside bonds, but protections have not been put in place and many service providers are price gouging hard enough to get sued.

According to Lucius Couloute, a researcher at the Prison Policy Initiative who studies video visitation, jails and prisons often take a commission for every call inmates place. “There are perverse incentives,” Couloute says. “So the sheriffs decide, ‘We might as well shift to video calling so we can get a revenue stream coming in.’”

In Washington, the Department of Corrections receives $3 for every call, according to [Leon] Digard [a senior research associate at Vera and coauthor of the study]. The irony: That money contributes to an inmate betterment fund, even as it simultaneously inhibits some inmates’ ability to use a tool that might very well better their lives.

Digard argues these systems could have much broader positive effects, if only they were implemented more responsibly. “The contracts they enter into with these private companies need to be improved so the interests of the incarcerated people are better safeguarded,” he says. []

Image from video visit service Fact Sheet.