Lawsuit cites 'inhumane' conditions in St. Louis jail

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Protesters begin pushing in one of the exterior fences outside the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, as people gather July 21 to call attention to what they say are inhumane conditions at the facility.
Christian Gooden ~ St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, file

ST. LOUIS -- A lawsuit filed Monday alleges inmates at a medium-security jail in St. Louis live in "inhumane conditions" that include rodent feces in food, infestations of bugs and snakes, and unbearable overcrowding.

The not-for-profit ArchCity Defenders filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of seven former inmates seeking monetary damages and closure of the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, known as the Workhouse.

The St. Louis mayor's office said the jail is inspected multiple times each year by the city Health Department and problems are addressed as they arise. Spokesman Koran Addo said preventative maintenance also is conducted regularly at the jail, which opened in the 1960s.

Among those filing suit was 43-year-old James Cody of Jefferson City, Missouri, who was jailed for eight months this year on a probation violation. He said he often found mouse feces in cake served at the jail. Jail staff would simply scrape off the feces, he said.

Cody said he was housed in a dorm with 69 other men, all sharing a single working toilet, sink and shower. He recalled the heat of summer, when temperatures inside the jail reached 125 degrees, according to the lawsuit. The hot conditions led to July protests that resulted in city officials temporarily bringing in portable air conditioners.

"I felt like I was treated like a dog," Cody said at a news conference before correcting himself. "Dogs get treated better, to tell you the truth."

Inmates watch the arrival of temporary air-conditioning units from TempAir on July 24 at the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, known better as the Workhouse.
Robert Cohen ~ St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, file

Another former inmate, Diedre Wortham, was arrested on a decade-old traffic ticket and spent 22 days in the jail, she said. She said that after being hospitalized for high blood pressure, she was denied medicine for a week.

Wortham said she breathed through a T-shirt because of mold in the jail, and stuffed shirts under her cell door to keep mice out.

"I didn't think I was going to make it out of the Workhouse alive," Wortham said.

All seven plaintiffs are black. ArchCity Defenders said in the court filing the vast majority of inmates at the jail are black, and virtually all of them are being held awaiting trial because they can't afford bail, mostly for non-violent crimes. A little over half of St. Louis' residents are black.

Blake Strode, an attorney for ArchCity Defenders, noted the same jail was the subject of a lawsuit 40 years ago. He said the problems at the jail are further evidence of the way the St. Louis-area's criminal-justice system is destructive to poor, black residents.

Strode called conditions at the jail "unconstitutional and inhumane," violating constitutional provisions against cruel and unusual punishment.

Pertinent address:

St. Louis Medium Security Institution, St. Louis, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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