Inmates have rioted three times at the St. Louis City Justice Center in the past two months due to inadequate coronavirus measures within its facilities, reports say.
Tensions have heightened between inmates and law enforcement about conditions in the jail during COVID-19, officials said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
On Feb. 6, more than 100 inmates took over a section of the CJC for about six hours, smashing windows and starting small fires, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, KSDK-TV reported. The riot left one guard hospitalized, who has since been released, and 65 inmates were transferred from CJC to St. Louis Medium Security Institution, USA Today reported.
On Dec. 29, dozens of detainees were transferred from CJC to a medium-security institution after refusing to return to their cells, reported KSDK-TV.
On Jan. 1, an additional 45 detainees were transferred out of the CJC after refusing to follow orders.
Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said faulty “medium security” locks were one of the reasons the riots got out of hand. He has repeatedly dismissed claims that the riots are due to COVID-19 concerns.
Missouri COVID-19 data indicates that the CJC has no current positive cases.
“This was a bunch of folk who were defiant, who decided they were going to engage in criminal mayhem,” said Edwards at a press conference following the riots.
Edwards’s statements have been met with pushback by public officials and local advocacy groups.
Nearly one in five of those incarcerated in Missouri has tested positive for COVID-19, an infection rate nearly three times higher than the general population, according to The Marshall Project. Missouri ranks in the top 20 states with the most coronavirus infections in prisons and jails.
“There are no protests without demands,” said Missouri Representative Rasheen Aldridge, Jr. in response to the third riot, Complex reported.
Mike Milton, an advocate with The Bail Project (TBP) said inmates at CJC “fear for their safety and lives” in a tweet on Sunday.
@MikeAMilton314– people in CJC and the Workhouse have talked about fearing for their safety & fearing for their lives. A man, detained pretrial for 3 years, lost his home & was separated from his children. He didn’t go in front of a judge for a year. This system is designed to
— ArchCityDefenders (@ArchCityDefense) February 7, 2021
CJC inmates told TBP that the jail has mishandled COVID-19 protocol, said Milton, River Front Times reported. Officers have ordered detainees to share cells with visibly symptomatic inmates, and have allegedly retaliated when the inmates voiced their concerns, according to the report.
TBP did not respond immediately to The DCNF’s request for comment.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson announced in a Feb. 8 news conference that a new task force will be responsible for “thoroughly and independently investigating conditions and operations at CJC and assessing any complaints that have been raised.”
Krewson has asked to receive an initial assessment of the task force’s findings in the next few weeks, according to the St. Louis Mayor’s Office.