Alderman wants Detention Facilities Oversight Board to see jail complaints faster

Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 6:52 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - First Alert 4 got the first look at proposed changes to help get the St. Louis City Justice Center on a better path.

This board bill takes aim at getting the group tasked with overseeing the jail to actually be able to have oversight.

Alderman Rasheen Aldridge is stepping in to give the Detention Facilities Oversight Board a better chance to do its job.

Alderman Aldridge is proposing a board bill that would make sure complaints get to their eyes within 48 hours of it being filed.

“Having accountability and a different set of eyes on seeing how many complaints are being repetitive, how many complaints are being issued this way or that way can be able to reduce a lot of tension that’s still boiling up over at the CJC,” Alderman Aldridge said.

First Alert 4 listened in to an oversight board meeting on Monday where members were told some of the complaints being looked at were by inmates who had since been released.

“They don’t feel like their complaints are even getting to the commissioner or outside eyes so it’s giving a little more transparency,” Alderman Aldridge said.

James Dahm spent a decade working at the CJC, where he started as a corrections officer and eventually becoming a case manager.

Dahm is now a member of the oversight board.

“Everyone in the jail benefits if it’s a more controlled environment be that the detainees or the officers,” Dahm said.

In August two inmates died and a corrections officer was held hostage at the CJC, which brought more attention to the roadblocks the oversight board continues to face.

“It’s disheartening,” Dahm says. “We’re trying to improve situations in there as quickly as possible.”

So far this year First Alert 4 is told 30 complaints have been filed and more keep coming in, both from inmates and their loved ones.

“It would give us an idea of what’s going on in not quite real time but more or less,” Dahm said.

Dahm’s concern is that inmates aren’t having enough access to the smart tablets. Dahm says those tablets are often hoarded by some of the inmates and suggests that there needs to be other systems to allow them to file complaint.

Another part of this bill by Alderman Aldridge would allow inmates to file complaints anonymously.

“A little lock box in the housing unit and ideally the detainee will drop that form off themselves,” Dahm said.

Legislation does take time and the Board of Aldermen returns to session on Friday.

Oversight board members also tell First Alert 4 having their own attorney is a top priority, instead of using the city attorney to avoid any conflict of interest.

“Every time that we have any kind of conflict with the Division of Corrections and it has gone to a decision to the city attorney, they have invariably sided with the Division of Corrections,” Dahm said. “It’s hard to be an independent oversight board when you have the same attorney as the system you’re supposed to be overseeing.”

This bill includes that and outlines funding for that would come from the Division of Civilian Oversight’s budget.

“Our city counselor works for the city and she will always protect the city, which is fine, but sometimes you need that oversight,” Alderman Aldridge said.

Another point of contention with the city and the oversight board has been the amount of training needed. Oversight board members have said the city continues to change the amount of hours needed.

Mayor Jones recently said in a letter to the board that the 40 hours of training was a national standard.

Alderman Aldridge is hoping to clean up the confusion around what is required through Board Bill 93, outlining the exact amount of orientation and training required.

In this proposed bill, orientation would be completed within 10 days of a member joining the oversight board and would be 10 hours of training.

“If they can give us a checklist and tell us what we need to have completed,” Dahm said. “Just give us a list and we can tick the boxes as we go and get it done. The goal is to be in compliance and to do our jobs. We’ve not been allowed to do our jobs because they keep telling us we’re not in compliance for one reason or another.”

However when it comes to on-going training, the bill outlines it must all be available online, made available to the public and allow members to have 12 months to complete all of the modules.

First Alert 4 asked Alderman Aldridge why he gave such a long period of time in this legislation.

Alderman Aldridge and Dahm both said members want to be in compliance and do the training, so there isn’t a concern it would take 12 months to complete.

“Say if a board member is to resign or don’t want to fulfill their term and half of the board has already completed the training, we wanted to put in a time frame in there to be flexible.”

Alderman Aldridge says there is a sense of urgency to help the oversight board, which is why he put an emergency clause in this bill. The emergency clause means if the board approves it and Mayor Jones signs it, it will go into effect immediately.