ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Concerns over the St. Louis County Juvenile Justice Center led to a special meeting Tuesday between parents, the county council, and the courts.
Michael Hicks was one of more than a dozen parents attending.
“I’m worried about my son’s safety inside of there,” he said.
Reverend Dr. Linden Bowie, president of the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri, was part of making the meeting possible.
“I would hope it’s to get some clarity on what the administration, the leadership, is doing to resolve some of those issues,” he said.
A joint letter from the church group and the NAACP includes the following complaints about the St. Louis County Juvenile Detention Center:
- Reported assaults, some leading to injuries to both juveniles and staff
- Visits and phone calls not allowed to juveniles who are not on disciplinary restrictions
- 12-hour lockdowns, forcing juveniles to use food containers as toilets
Chief Juvenile Officer Rick Gaines defended his staff and the treatment of juveniles while acknowledging challenges brought on by Missouri legislation that went into effect in 2021 – known as Raise the Age.
That legislation puts 17-year-olds in the juvenile system rather than putting those offenders in adult detention. Before the Raise the Age law, Gaines said they might have seen a high of 20 juveniles in detention.
Since then, Gaines said they may see a high of 50 to 60 juveniles on a regular basis.
“However, my staff level did not increase dramatically based off the population that we are receiving,” he said.
21st Judicial Circuit Presiding Judge Mary Elizabeth Ott said, “How can the county help? We need more space.”
Councilman Mark Harder grilled Gaines on the possible consequences.
“So 40 rooms do not have toilets?” Harder said.
“That’s correct,” Gaines responded.
“And for those rooms that do not have toilets, how are their bodily functions taken care of?”
They should be requesting to use the restroom through a buzzer in a room.”
“And if that buzzer doesn’t work, what happens?”
“There’s an issue,” Gaines said.
After the meeting, parent Michael Hicks said, “This is a start, but it’s not over.”
The county council will return soon with another meeting, and there’s also a reported investigation by the Missouri Department of Social Services.