2021 St. Louis mayoral candidates

(St. Louis mayoral candidates, clockwise, top left: Tishaura O. Jones, Andrew Jones Jr., Cara Spencer and Lewis Reed.)

Ahead of the St. Louis Primary Election on March 2, The St. Louis American is asking a series of questions of the candidates for mayor of the city of St. Louis.  Following are their responses to this week’s question:

What is your plan for reducing overcrowding at the Justice Center and closing the Workhouse?

Tishaura Jones

Once elected as mayor, I will bring all of the stakeholders to the table — the courts, our circuit attorney, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Public Safety, local organizations, and more to devise the city's best path forward to finally close the Workhouse.

The Close the Workhouse bill was written, passed and signed into ordinance in the middle of the same pandemic the city claims is keeping it from finally bringing about its closure. Every day that the Workhouse remains open is a moral failing for our city, and I will close it. We must work to decarcerate our city and bring about a system of justice that recognizes the humanity of those incarcerated and the need to protect their health. 

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Lewis Reed

I already passed the law to close the Workhouse in a safe and responsible manner. That plan included moving detainees to surrounding facilities. Due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements, none of them will accept the detainees of the Workhouse. 

At this time, both jails need to remain open to provide the space needed to practice social distancing. We can’t pack them all in one jail or just release those remanded to our custody. As congregate living facilities, the jails will probably be on the early list for vaccines. After vaccinations, hopefully we can safely house all in one facility. 

I’m also focused on reducing the overcrowding in the morgue and emergency rooms due to the out of control gun violence in our neighborhoods. If the hundreds of murderers who are walking free on our streets are arrested, I will gladly find room for them in jail, while maintaining humane conditions.

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Cara Spencer

The City of St. Louis operates two incarceration centers. Incarcerated persons between both facilities include people held on both state and federal charges. It is very rare, if ever, that someone is held under municipal violation. 

Under state law, the city is required to house those held on state charges, but the City of St. Louis chooses to contract with the federal government to house federal detainees.    Both the state and federal governments reimburse a fraction of the cost of housing people, which means the city is subsidizing the housing of both sets of folks waiting for trial to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

Eliminating the voluntary federal contract will free up more than enough space to eliminate the need to keep the Workhouse open, stop the subsidizing of federal prisoners saving us money and allow us to safely and swiftly close the Workhouse.

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Andrew Jones

The Workhouse closure issue has been discussed for years, and I have yet to learn of any serious study that determines the building is no longer fit for human habitation. 

Why hasn’t the city definitively determined if there are code violations and safety concerns making it uninhabitable? No well thought out remedy or remediation can take place without this information. 

The Workhouse status is critical to operations. Overcrowding at the City Justice Center is relieved by open capacity at The Workhouse. The proposed closure of The Workhouse would be costly. 

The transfer of those detainees to other qualified facilities has a cost not only to the city, but to the citizens of St. Louis. Housing the inmates in facilities outside the St. Louis area creates unnecessary transportation costs for the city and puts a needless obstacle in the path of inmates being allowed to see their friends and families. 

The St. Louis American invites the voters of St. Louis to submit questions you would like to ask the candidates. Please send your questions to llockhart@stlamerican.com

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