Former city jail superintendent and corrections officer speak out about dangerous staffing shortages

Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 6:41 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - News 4 is getting brand new accounts on just how troubled the city’s downtown jail really is. Six inmates have died in the last 10 months. Now, the former jail commissioner is speaking out for the first time since he retired last year, as is his former guard. To them, the jail is in an emergency situation.

Smashed windows, sheets set on fire, and officers raising pods after detainees broke out in fights. They’re repeated scenes at the City Justice Center all in the last year.

“I’ve never seen that many disturbances before back to back,” Jeff Carson said.

Carson served as the Medium Security Institution’s (MSI) superintendent for years. When MSI was closed and merged into the CJC, he served as a superintendent at the CJC and then interim commissioner. Prior to working in St. Louis, he spent more than 30 years working in other jails, prisons and departments of corrections across the country.

Carson said he would not want to work as a corrections officer in the CJC’s current state.

“No. Unfortunately, no,” he said. “Right now it’s an emergency situation, and I feel for all of them.”

When Carson was interim commissioner, they were looking to hire 30 corrections officers. A year later, that number has more than tripled.

“You’d be lucky if you come in and have enough staff to simply put everyone in every unit,” a former corrections officer said.

This former CO wants to remain anonymous. After working at the CJC for more than a year, they quit last week.

“I left because of safety concerns. There are anywhere between 40 to 60 plus inmates in a unit. If you don’t have adequate backup, if something goes wrong, you could be killed,” the CO explained.

COs said they’re left in pods alone with dozens of detainees and without proper protection, like pepper spray.

“In my leadership capacity, I would require two people. I wouldn’t work in a jail or a prison without pepper spray or something,” Carson added.

The massive lack of staff, Carson and the former CO said, remains present after inmate deaths. The City said the six inmates’ deaths in the last 10 months were due to medical conditions, drug overdoses and suicide.

“The City of St. Louis has to decide whether they want to have a jail or not, or I think it should be closed down,” Carson said.

“If you don’t have the manpower to safely contain them, then it doesn’t matter how much housing you have,” the former CO added.

The city’s public safety department spokesperson said all CJC staff have pepper spray. They also said they’re taking steps to ensure the workload is manageable despite their lack of staffing.