Protests outside St. Louis Workhouse over jail conditions

ST. LOUIS - Things got heated Friday evening at the St. Louis Workhouse between police and protestors.

Around 9:15 p.m., police in riot gear sprayed the crowd with pepper spray, trying to force protesters to leave the area. Police issued a final warning to protestors to disperse after things got out of hand.

Some folks were carried away and people started to put water in their eyes. That's when police pushed protestors back even further, all the way onto Hall Street.

This was a complete 180 from when the protest began at 7 p.m.

Protesters chanted "shut it down." They wanted the Medium Security Institution (commonly referred to as the St. Louis Workhouse) closed after reports of some inmates living in mold, without air conditioners, and a rodent problem.

When protesters initially got here, correctional officers started to go toward them but quickly turned around and let the protest commence.

The office of Aldermanic President Lewis Reed said they hope to get temporarily A/C units here by Monday. That could cost up to $40,000 per day.

You Paid For It reporter Elliott Davis, whose initial reporting has drawn widespread attention to the matter of jailhouse conditions, was outside the Workhouse Friday and filed this report from the field:

Meanwhile, Mayor Lyda Krewson's office issued the following statement about the conditions at the Workhouse:

The high temperatures have raised concerns for all citizens in St. Louis, particularly those who do not have access to air conditioning. As has been well-reported, this includes some areas of the Medium Security Institution (MSI) located at 7600 North Hall Street.

MSI houses citizens who have been charged by the Circuit Attorney's office; assigned bail by a 22nd Judicial Circuit judge; and have not or cannot post bail prior to their court date. Currently, as many people as possible are housed in the air-conditioned sections of the facility, including all women and medically-sensitive citizens.

When temperatures climb, the City’s Corrections Division takes immediate action to mitigate the effects for those not housed in air-conditioned parts of the building. Those actions parallel recommendations given to all City residents during periods of prolonged heat:

· Rotating citizens into the air-conditioned portions of MSI
· Use of fans and cold towels
· Hourly supply of water and ice, and intermittent supply of sports drinks
· Monitoring of recreation areas to check for overexertion
· Limiting physical activity
· Education regarding heat dangers

In 2015, City voters rejected a bond issue that would have funded infrastructure improvements throughout the City, including installing air conditioning at MSI. In the absence of those funds, the City and its Corrections Division have taken several alternative actions aimed at long-term improvements at MSI:

· The facility’s air-conditioned areas are being renovated to significantly increase their capacity so that citizens can be moved from non-air-conditioned units to air-conditioned units
· The Division has sought bids for the cost of repairing windows and purchasing air-conditioning units throughout the older sections of the building
· Passage of Ordinance 70536 in the spring, establishing "a charity bail fund to assist certain non-violent defendants in posting bail as allowed by the Court"
· The facility’s electrical service was upgraded in the spring to prepare the older sections of the building to support more air conditioning in the future

The mayor's office is committed to working with the Circuit Attorney's Office and the 22nd Judicial Court to more efficiently move people through our justice system to reduce the population in MSI.

We urge all citizens to check on their neighbors and loved ones and to help each other.