(St. Louis Public Radio) – In 2018, a powerhouse trio of nonprofits and activist groups set off on an unlikely quest: They wanted to close the city’s notorious Medium Security Institution, better known as the Workhouse. ArchCity Defenders, Action St. Louis and the Bail Project argued that the fraught racial history of the city jail and its hellish conditions meant that St. Louis was better off without it, moving all of its detainees to the Justice Center downtown.

After two years of advocacy, the Close the Workhouse campaign believed its goal was finally within its grasp. Organizers announced they had a majority of the members of the Board of Aldermen on board for an amendment to strip the Workhouse funding from the city’s upcoming budget.   

But the amendment never made it to a vote. Instead, the budget went into effect last week with funding for the Workhouse and without a vote from the Board of Aldermen, much less an up-or-down vote on the Workhouse funding within it. 

“The truth is that we ran up against the clock,” said Kayla Reed, executive director of Action St. Louis, referring to the June 30 deadline for passage of the city’s budget. 

But if the activists lost the battle, they may have won the war: That same day, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed announced he was introducing a bill of his own — one that would close the Workhouse within six months.

Kayla Reed, of Action St. Louis, said Monday on St. Louis Public Radio’s St. Louis on the Air that the group has offered nearly a dozen amendments to President Reed’s bill. (The two Reeds are not related.) But she believes the aldermanic president’s office is amenable to those changes. 

“I’ve probably read it 100 times,” she said of Reed’s Board Bill 92. “And what I will say is that it does speak to a lot of what the campaign over the last two years has been lifting up — that the call to close the Workhouse is not just simply about closing the facility. It is a conversation about pre-trial detention at large. It is a conversation about how we think about detainee populations in the city of St. Louis and how we spend our money in the carceral system here locally. 

“But it also has always set up a conversation about reinvesting in community. The model has been about ‘close the Workhouse, and invest that $16 million into community.’ And at its bones, and overall, this bill gets to that.”

Republished with permission of St. Louis Public Radio: https://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/st-louis-close-workhouse-campaign-gears-close-deal

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