Push to close St. Louis Workhouse met with disagreements in city hall

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ST. LOUIS – Even big brands like Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream have been flooding social media feeds calling for the closing of the city’s Medium Security Institution, more commonly known as the St. Louis Workhouse.

It appears the city officials who can do that can’t all get on the same page.

“Now is the time to finally hear those calls close to the Workhouse,” Alderwoman Cara Spencer (20th Ward) said.

“This is not only a moral imperative but it’s a financial imperative. The city of St. Louis cannot afford to waste money in good times and we are not in good times.”

Those same sentiments are being echoed by 14 other aldermen and women, including Alderwoman Megan Green (15th Ward).

“We have thousands of people taking to the streets in our city and our region demanding change,” Green said. “Now is the time to have the political courage to close it down.”

The recent resurgence of closing the north city jail comes as a Fiscal Year 2021 budget is weeks away from being put in place.

Over the years, the budget for the Workhouse has been cut in half to $8 million. The mayor and her staff don’t appear to be moved by the select aldermen push to close and defund the Workhouse when she says they could propose it themselves.

In a lengthy statement, a spokesperson for the mayor said, in part: “There’s a lot of the dynamics in the detainee population that must be taken into consideration that people often oversimplify and misunderstand. None of them [28 aldermen] through the budget process have proposed a single change to the public safety department. If they want it cut so bad, you guys should be asking them why they haven’t done it.”

Fox 2 did ask the alderwomen. Green responded.

“I think that’s absolutely not true,” Green said. “When you look at the budget process right now, there’s few of us who sit on the Ways and Means Committee that have the authority.”

Spencer is one of the 11 aldermen that sit on that board. She admits there hasn’t been much talk during this budget process, but says that no longer can happen.

“We’re doing it now,” Spencer said. “The call is now to make this cut to the budget.”

Alderman Joe Vaccaro sits on the committee as well. He doesn’t believe the Workhouse should close and worries about the deeper motive to this 11th hour move.

“Those that are saying we want it done knew the process, knew when it could’ve been done,” he said. “The mayor’s right, she’s absolutely right.”

There’s a rally happening at the Workhouse on Wednesday starting at 10 a.m.

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