NORTH ST. LOUIS -Protestors turned up the heat Friday night on the City of St Louis over the city Workhouse. Saturday marked the fourth day in a row with temperatures in triple digits. Saturday the temperature hit a record 108 degrees.
Protestors say they want to see inmates get access to air conditioning, but they also want the facility shut down.
Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed is calling for action.
There were some tense moments Friday night as protest erupted outside the St. Louis Medium Security Institution.
Police in riot gear sprayed the crowd with pepper spray, trying to force protesters to leave the area, after things got out of hand.
Protesters chanted "shut it down." They wanted the St. Louis Workhouse closed after reports of some inmates living in mold, and without air conditioning.
There was a diverse group of demonstrators Friday, among them State Senator Jamilah Nasheed. Nasheed is calling for immediate changes.
Nasheed sent a letter to the governor and the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections to highlight the City of St. Louis Division of Corrections’ facilities.
In the letter, the senator alluded to the “deteriorated” conditions of the city’s facilities, describing them as “ongoing”, and the potential health and safety risks they pose to staff members and offenders.
Citing the extraordinary circumstances in the city, Senator Nasheed called for an in-person visit from state officials to inspect the city’s Medium Security Institution (The Workhouse). She also called for an audit of the City of St. Louis Correction Division’s procedures and facilities, including any financial reports involving the State of Missouri and Federal Government.
The senator described the conversation between her and the governor as encouraging and thanked him for his involvement in improving correctional facilities.
Statement from the City of St. Louis Below:
The City has placed orders for portable air conditioning units to be installed at the Medium Security Institution (MSI) located at 7600 North Hall Street. Five units ranging from 25 tons to 50 tons will be installed to bring relief to the older sections of the facility that lack air conditioning. Every effort will be made to bring each unit on-line as soon as possible, so that relief will be phased in through the week. The City expects that all five units will be on-line by the end of the week. Engineers report that they expect the units will be able to sustain a temperature of 78 degrees inside the dorms.
"I support air conditioning at MSI for the health and safety of everyone who is in that jail," said Mayor Lyda Krewson. "Once my administration determined that temporary air conditioning was a viable solution, I ordered that temporary air conditioning units be installed as soon as possible."
MSI was built in 1966. Many of its dorms have operated for over 50 years without air conditioning. Currently, as many people as possible are housed in the air-conditioned sections of the facility, including all women and medically-sensitive citizens.
The City in recent years has tried to find funds for a permanent fix. Voters narrowly rejected a civic infrastructure bond issue in August of 2015 that would have funded permanent air conditioning at the jail. Since then, the City has worked within its budget to try to improve conditions.
One of the most important things the City has done is to upgrade the electric service at the site so that additional air conditioning could be supported. That work, which cost about $200,000, was completed this past spring. Before that, it would have been impossible to install temporary air conditioning.
Last night, protesters demonstrated at MSI. While peaceful protest is a fundamental right, several demonstrators damaged and breached the exterior perimeter fence, which is being repaired today. Breaching the perimeter of a jail is a crime and an inherently dangerous act that puts the safety of others, including everyone in the jail, at risk. Two police officers were injured while working to keep the peace. The City is taking immediate steps to air-condition the facility. We urge our fellow citizens to remain calm. We further urge the small number of disruptive demonstrators to consider the safety of their fellow citizens inside and outside the facility.
Again, we urge all citizens to check on their neighbors and loved ones and to help each other during this heat wave.
In 2015, City voters rejected a bond issue that would have funded infrastructure improvements throughout the City, including installing air conditioning at MSI. In the absence of those funds, the City and its Corrections Division have taken several alternative actions aimed at long-term improvements at MSI:
The facility’s air-conditioned areas are being renovated to significantly increase their capacity so that citizens can be moved from non-air-conditioned units to air-conditioned units.
The Division has sought bids for the cost of repairing windows and purchasing air-conditioning units throughout the older sections of the building.
Passage of Ordinance 70536 in the spring established a charity bail fund to assist certain non-violent defendants in posting bail as allowed by the court.
The facility’s electrical service was upgraded in the spring to prepare the older sections of the building to support more air conditioning in the future.
The mayor's office is committed to working with the Circuit Attorney's Office and the 22nd Judicial Court to more efficiently move people through our justice system to reduce the population in MSI.
We urge all citizens to check on their neighbors and loved ones and to help each other.
Our news crews caught up family members of some inmates.
"My finance telling me its rats and snakes in there. They are not suppose to live like that. I know its jail, but still there are steps to be comfortable. You can’t be comfortable in jail but you least should be clean.“ said one family member.
St. Louis President of the Board of Alderman Lewis Reed announced that temporary air conditioning units are expected to be put installed next week.