St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution  (the Workhouse)

Detainees at St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution, more commonly known as the Workhouse, protested boiling temperatures and inhuman conditions to people outside in July 2018.

On July 17, the 28-0 unanimous vote by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen and the subsequent signing of Ordinance 71217 by Mayor Lyda Krewson was a historic moment. This was a moment when the people of St. Louis, a coalition across age, race, and class, joined together to demand the closure of a hellhole jail that has terrorized generations of Black and Brown people.

For decades, this jail, commonly referred to as “the Workhouse,” has been known for inhumane, unconstitutional conditions, that strip humanity and dignity from people, destroy families and even take lives. The demand to close the Workhouse remains, as does the demand for our elected officials to finally re-envision what public safety looks like and invest in our communities in a meaningful way.

In the 5 months since Ordinance 71217 was signed into law, Krewson has failed to hold her administration accountable for refusing to take the three necessary steps to close the Workhouse by Dec. 31.

The first step is for Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass to prepare a detailed, good-faith plan to close the jail.

The second is for Dr. Frederick Echols, St. Louis acting director of health, to prepare a report on staffing and roles in the new Division of Supportive Re-entry.

The third is for the Board of Public Service to prepare a report on the layout and efficient use of space in the St. Louis City Justice Center.

Though Krewson is not running for a second term as mayor, she still needs to fulfill the obligations set out by Ordinance 71217 that she signed into law.

Because the Board of Aldermen has failed in their oversight role to ensure the Workhouse closes, we demand President Lewis Reed and the Board support Board Bill 167, a supplemental appropriation bill introduced two weeks ago. The bill would end all funding to the Workhouse and redirect all of those funds to programs the city needs desperately, like winter shelter for the unhoused and funding for services offered in a newly-created Division of Supportive Re-entry.

It would also transfer employees of the Workhouse to lateral positions within the city resulting in no job loss, with the added benefit of filling empty positions in the city.

Time and again, when our elected officials have been given an opportunity to do the right thing, to do what is best for our city, too many have failed. Upon passage of the ordinance in July, Reed emphasized that “this is not a symbolic gesture, this is as real as it gets.”

If that is true, it is beyond time for him to reassert his commitment to closing the Workhouse in 2020 and rally board members to get this done. It’s time for him to put his money where his mouth is.

The people of this city demanded change. We will not be stopped or ignored, we will not let up the pressure. We will continue to hold our elected officials accountable and demand that they honor their promise to close the Workhouse immediately.

Shame on them for standing in the way of progress for St. Louis by keeping millions of dollars from our communities when these resources are so desperately needed.

We thank those aldermen who have shown their commitment to re-envisioning public safety, who fight for the will of the people, and who believe in building the future we deserve.

We thank our supporters and affected members. We will continue to unapologetically fight for the liberation of our family still in the Workhouse and for resources for communities most impacted.

The Close the Workhouse campaign aims to attack mass incarceration, without legitimizing or justifying the continued caging of people as punishment. The campaign calls for the closure of the Medium Security Institute, aka ‘the Workhouse’, an end to wealth based pretrial detention, and the reinvestment of the money used to cage poor people and Black people into rebuilding the most affected neighborhoods in this region.

Follow Close the Workhouse on social media and online at #ClosetheWorkhouse

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