Conditions in America’s jails and prisons weren’t exactly sterling before the pandemic broke out. In the year since, those incarcerated have dealt with lackluster efforts to mitigate the virus and have often been an afterthought when it comes to the nation’s response to the virus. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that an uprising occurred at a St. Louis jail for the second time in two months.
According to KMOV4, on Sunday night, about 60 people incarcerated at the Justice Center in downtown St. Louis managed to get out of their cells. They broke windows on the third floor and set some items on fire. As news of the uprising spread, crowds gathered outside of the jail, with many of those who arrived telling reporters that they were related to somebody inside in the jail.
Some of those incarcerated could be heard yelling for new court dates in their criminal proceedings. As a result of the pandemic, court cases have been delayed in St. Louis, which likely has resulted in some of these people essentially waiting in legal limbo. It’s kind of fucked up that some people are stuck in jail because they can’t afford cash bail and cases aren’t being heard in an efficient manner.
A spokesperson for the city told KMOV4 that the uprising started at 8:30 p.m. after “detainees became non-compliant, covered security cameras, smashed windows and destroyed property.” Over an hour after the uprising started sheriff’s deputies arrived at the jail, temporarily calming the situation down, only for inmates to begin breaking windows on the other side of the jail a short time later.
St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts told KMOV that no guards or officials in the jail were injured during the uprising, and detainees only suffered minor cuts and bruises from the broken glass. He added that some of the detainees who participated in the uprising have been transferred to a medium security prison.
There were mixed reactions about the uprising from city officials. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson called it “a very concerning and dangerous situation of course not just only for detainees, but for personnel who work here who this creates a very high risk situation for them so we thank them for their work.”
Mayoral candidate Tishaura Jones tweeted “There is an immediate need for change in our city’s justice system. Uprisings at our jails should not become the norm, and this is unacceptable,” adding, “We need to get serious about moving pre-trial detainees out of our jails, vaccinating our inmates, and creating a new culture of justice in Saint Louis.”
Missouri State Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, who represents downtown St. Louis, issued a statement in support of the detainees, and called out the mayor for not moving to address the issues that caused the detainees to protest.
As mentioned earlier, this is the second uprising to occur at the Justice Center, with the last one happening in early February. On Feb. 6, 115 detainees managed to manipulate the locks in their cells and broke out, with a similar scene as Sunday’s taking place.