Sen. Jamilah Nasheed

There are a lot of challenges facing the City of St. Louis, from crime, to affordable housing, economic development and more. While there are many daunting challenges facing our city, there is one that I believe we can accomplish in the near future – one that doesn’t need funding, but the exact opposite; a problem that only needs a commitment from our city’s leaders to solve.

The issue? Closing the St. Louis Workhouse once and for all.

I have opposed the facility’s operation for some time now, believing it presents a clear and present danger to the health and safety of the more than 1,000 men and women at the Medium Security Institution. There have been reports of unsanitary and cramped conditions within the facility.

The Workhouse also has no air-conditioning, so each summer, as temperatures often reach triple digits, both staff and offenders within this 50-year old facility are forced to suffer from dangerous and inhumane conditions. This is unacceptable. People should not have to endure another Missouri summer within the walls of the Workhouse.

I also believe closing the Workhouse is essential for improving our city’s criminal justice system. There are a large number of individuals with nonviolent charges being held at this facility for pretrial detention. This policy undermines our goals of reducing incarceration and implementing comprehensive criminal justice reform. We should be pursuing smart sentencing strategies, not keeping people behind bars longer than they should be just because they can’t afford bond. By closing the Workhouse, I believe we would be following through on our commitment to improving our city’s criminal justice system.

Lastly, I believe there is an economic argument to be made for closing the facility. If the Workhouse were closed, the city would save around $16 million annually. In a city that struggles to find enough revenue to fund its priorities, this is real money that can be put toward real solutions that actually help residents in our community, like better-funded schools, job training programs and other social services. These are what keep our communities strong and vibrant, not outdated and obsolete jails like the Workhouse.  

Already, city leaders have been considering the possibility of closing the Workhouse. I think this is a positive step, and one I hope they follow through on. I want to commend the comptroller for her leadership on supporting the closure of the Workhouse. While certain city leaders, including the mayor, have voiced their opposition to this plan, I urge them to reconsider their positions. I believe the city and its residents would be greatly benefitted by the closure of the Workhouse. With enough support for this proposal, I believe we can make real, lasting change for our city.

Closing the St. Louis Workhouse is in the economic and moral interest of our city. We simply cannot allow this facility to remain open, and for these individuals to be confined within its walls any longer. It is time to act. It is time to close the St. Louis Workhouse.

State Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) represents the 5th District in the Missouri Senate.

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