ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner on Monday launched an investigation into conditions at the City Justice Center, a large downtown jail that was the site of a massive disturbance over the weekend.
More than 100 detainees on Saturday were able to get out of their cells, smash windows and set fires. A corrections officer was injured and hospitalized but is expected to recover.
Advocates for inmates on Sunday said the uprising was “an act of courage” that was necessitated by inmates’ basic needs not being met, including a lack of personal protective equipment to help stave off a coronavirus outbreak.
Gardner, in a statement, called the weekend incident and other recent protests inside the jail “deeply troubling” and said her office’s investigation will focus on the circumstances that led to the actions.
“We will ensure there is full accountability,” Gardner said. “But while some are calling for the immediate prosecution of the detainees involved, this situation demands further scrutiny.”
She cited concerns raised by relatives of detainees, public defenders and advocates about conditions, “including whether or not appropriate protocols have been followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Earlier Monday, Mayor Lyda Krewson announced the appointment of a task force to examine issues at the jail that has had three inmate uprisings since December.
Krewson’s office said the task force will be chaired by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff, who also is a professor and dean emeritus at St. Louis University School of Law.
“The City takes very seriously the health and safety of the individuals who the courts have determined need to be held pretrial,” Krewson said in a statement. While officials believe the corrections division is being run in a “professional and capable” way, the concerns deserve investigation, she said.
An advocate for inmates, Tracy Stanton of Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing St. Louis, said the inmates rioted in part because they lack adequate heat in cells and personal protective equipment to protect against COVID-19. The uprising “was an act of courage that was staged to reinforce these issues because their needs are still not being met,” Stanton said.
City officials say there are no positive cases among the general population, and that inmates are provided with adequate PPE and are tested upon request.
But activist Inez Bordeaux, of the legal aid group Arch City Defenders, said she’s taken calls on the organization’s jail hotline and heard from dozens of detainees who say they don’t have access to COVID-19 testing or PPE.