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Portable air-conditioning units ordered for medium-security jail in St. Louis

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Mayor Lyda Krewson announced on Saturday that the city has placed orders for portable air-conditioning units to be installed at the city’s medium-security jail, which has been the subject of inmate complaints and protests by activists during recent extremely high temperatures.

Five units ranging from 25 to 50 tons will be installed to bring relief to the older sections of the facility that lack air conditioning, according to a City Hall statement. The city expects the units to be in place by the end of this week.

Last spring, the city spent $200,000 to upgrade the electrical service at the Medium Security Institution at 7600 Hall Street, known at the “workhouse,” so that additional air conditioning could be supported, Krewson said. Currently, the cafeteria and some other common areas are the only parts of the facility with air conditioning.

About 150 people demonstrated for about two hours outside the workhouse Friday night while some inmates yelled chants and waved towels from windows. Police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

More protesters gathered in the heat and subsequent rain Saturday, with several clashes with police and some arrests as of late Saturday night.

“I support air conditioning at MSI for the health and safety of everyone who is in that jail,” Krewson said.

“Once my administration determined that temporary air conditioning was a viable solution, I ordered that temporary air conditioning units be installed as soon as possible.”

The workhouse was built in 1966. Voters turned down a tax increase in 2015 that would have installed permanent air conditioning at the jail among other citywide infrastructure improvements.

But heat is just one of many complaints about the jail. Allegations of unsanitary conditions and abuse from guards continue to circulate about the facility, which houses more than 750 people who cannot afford bail while awaiting trial.

Many of the dorms have operated for more than 50 years without air conditioning, according to Krewson. She said as many people as possible are housed in the air-conditioned sections of the facility, including all women and medically sensitive people.

With the temperatures soaring past 100 degrees — even hitting a record 108 degrees Saturday — the Arch City Defenders civil rights law firm and other groups have called conditions at the jail “inhumane” and demanded it be shut down.

Organizers also have raised money to post bail for at least 15 of more than 100 inmates who were seeking bail support so they could be released while awaiting their trials.

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Denise Hollinshed is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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