ST. LOUIS — For the second time this week, a downtown St. Louis jail has been disrupted by inmates concerned about unsafe conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic, city officials said Friday.
A disruption at the St. Louis City Justice Center on Tucker Boulevard on Friday prompted the transfer of 45 inmates to the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, also known as the workhouse. The incident comes after a similar disturbance resulted in 56 inmates getting moved to the workhouse after they refused to return to their cells Tuesday.
The City Justice Center is "already overcrowded" and faces difficulties ensuring social distancing for inmates, according to a statement Friday by Lewis Reed, the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.
“For the second time in just four days, the inmates at the Justice Center have had to take drastic measures because they feared for their lives due to possible exposure to COVID-19," Reed said. "The inmates created a disruption because they refused to be housed with COVID-19 positive inmates."
The six-story facility has a capacity of 860 inmates. As of Dec. 23, the building was at 89% capacity with 742 inmates, according to city data.
By contrast, the workhouse was recently listed as holding 91 inmates — just 11% of its capacity of 1,138.
The city plans to close the workhouse, where activists have protested conditions for years. However, Mayor Lyda Krewson last month announced that the facility would not close by this year, as originally expected.
Some, like Reed, say that closing the workhouse now, during the pandemic, would put inmates' lives at risk "just to meet a specific timeline."
"There’s just a lot more room to spread out out there," said Reed's legislative director, Mary Goodman. "If we closed the workhouse, it would've really, really overcrowded CJC."