St. Louis advocacy organizations have long called for the closure of the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, known as the City Workhouse. A grassroots campaign hopes to reform bail practices and shutter the jail once and for all. The Close the Workhouse campaign issued a report Thursday making the case to shut down the facility, which holds 550 people, the vast majority of whom are awaiting trial, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “What we’re talking about isn’t a broken toilet or some mold on one wall. Everyone we’ve talked to who has been in the workhouse echoes the same horror stories over and over,” said Rebecca Gorley of ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights law firm.
The report details more than 30 years of controversy at the workhouse, dating back to a lawsuit filed over inhumane conditions in 1974. The city was sued again over the jail in 1990. In 2009, an American Civil Liberties Union report said the jail was overcrowded and unsanitary, and that staff allowed inmates to assault each other, ignored sexual harassment, and provided negligent medical care. In 2012, guards were accused of setting up gladiator-style fights between inmates. In November, the city was sued by seven former inmates alleging mold, oppressive heat, and rat and insect infestations in the 52-year-old facility. The federal suit, filed by ArchCity Defenders, argues that St. Louis officials have ignored the problems for years and seeks a judge’s order that would close the workhouse or fine the city $10,000 per day until problems are fixed. “The workhouse is a hopeless place. When you first walk in, you can feel the hopelessness,” said Inez Bordeaux, who spent 30 days there awaiting a probation violation hearing. “You can feel the desperation.” City officials say it isn’t feasible to close an institution that houses hundreds of people facing felony charges.