STL Public safety leaders unveil upgrades to the City Justice Center

Published: May. 4, 2022 at 7:15 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Following a year of safety concerns for both detainees and corrections officers inside the St. Louis City Justice Center, public safety officials unveiled long-overdue upgrades inside the facility.

“I think that our staff need to be appreciated and for a long time they haven’t been,” said Jennifer Clemons-Abdullah, the City’s corrections commissioner.

Back in 2021, destroyed windows, a fire set off by detainees, and uprisings on the jail floor were becoming commonplace inside the CJC. One of the major reasons why was because ever since the facility was built 20 years ago, it has been operating with jail cell locks that did not meet national standards for a medium-security institution. Officials say these faulty locks contributed to detainees getting out of their cells.

Today, Public Safety Director Dan Isom and other city leaders led news outlets through a tour of the changes inside the third floor of the facility, where News 4 got to see new jail locks installed in the cells.

“The upgrades have cost $7 million to date, for a total cost of $20 million in the long term,” said Isom.

The changes go beyond locks. New fencing along the windows and at the entrance to the common area have also been installed, and the workstation where correction officers oversee the jail cells is no longer in the common area where detainees were previously able to gain easy access.

“Now that is in a secured space, which is safe not only for the detainees but corrections officers as well,” said Isom.

The next phase of upgrades to the CJC will be work on the fourth floor, the fifth, and finally the second floor.

“The changes are huge, don’t get me wrong. But I think being fair, firm and consistent is going to be a bigger role,” said Clemons-Abdullah.

Corrections Commissioner Clemons-Abdullah says on top of facility changes, the CJC also needs more staff to maintain safety. Right now, the CJC is expected to bring on six new correctional officers.

“We need about 50 correctional officers. We’ll take 60 or 70 if they come our way,” said Clemons-Abdullah. “The needs are great, and it’s not just correctional officers. We’ll probably need correctional workers, re-entry people, it’s a ray of folk, because we have people that have retired.”

Isom says some of the staffing constraints may improve once the city can transfer all detainees and resources currently at the CJC annex, located at the Medium Security Institution in North City. It has been commonly known as the Workhouse.

“On Friday, Detainees will begin to move to the third floor. We call this turning over. When that transition is complete. We will assess the timeline to begin moving detainees from CJC annex to CJC proper,” said Isom. “Currently there are only 23 detainees at the CJC annex. The consolidation of the detainees will also help us consolidate staff.”

Isom says there is no concrete timeline for when all the upgrades will be completed, but the goal is to eventually close down the CJC annex for good. The city is already working with community partners on ideas on what that land could be used for moving forward.

“However, just as we did before, we plan to keep the CJC annex open in the short term for overflow and safety reasons,” said Isom.

As the CJC enters a new phase of changes, Clemons-Abdullah said she has taken the lead on working to create an environment where detainees can communicate their frustrations to staff and further prevent instances of resistance and violence as seen in the past.

“The detainees, I go to them, and I talk to them monthly,” said Clemons-Abdullah. “This has been a practice that has been conducted at CJC for a long time; however, the commissioner has never participated. And I think some of the long stays and frustration came from lack of communication.”

The city says the $20 million in funding for upgrades to the entire CJC are coming from a variety of sources, including ARPA and Capital funds. The city will determine the best source for additional funds if the project goes beyond that amount.