This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 26, 2009 - Upset at the official reception given to an ACLU report about conditions at the St. Louis Jail and Workhouse, one of the corrections officers who was quoted anonymously in the report came forward Thursday.
Darious Young, who was fired from his job as a shift commander at the Workhouse last year, recalled at a news conference how in 2004, he had submitted a report saying that overcrowding at the facility was "a public safety nightmare that was just waiting to happen."
In response, he said, "Basically I was told to shut up." He said he is battling his termination for having a second job with the city schools without authorization.
In the ACLU report, which was released earlier this week and sent to the Justice Department for review, Young was one of six corrections officers interviewed; he was identified only as CO 1. The other five guards who were interviewed remain working for the city and are afraid to come forward because of possible retaliation, said Redditt Hudson of the ACLU, who conducted the interviews.
The report also included interviews with inmates, whose names were not given. Both groups told of assaults on inmates by guards, sexual harassment and misconduct, medical neglect and systematic cover-ups and false reporting of incidents.
In response to the ACLU report, the city said it placed little stock in allegations that were made anonymously. Young said that attitude prompted him to go public.
"I woke up this morning and I said, 'Today is the day,' " he told the news conference.
According to information about the jail attributed to CO 1 in the report, "mats and steel inside the facility are not regularly sanitized; vomit and human feces are sometimes found on surfaces in areas where inmates are housed. Staph infection is an ever present health risk inside the facility, and outbreaks of staph and other communicable diseases have been an ongoing problem. "
CO 1 also related stories of physical abuse of inmates, including one 16-year-old who was stomped, kicked and punched in the face by guards in his cell.
Young said that he knows the other five guards who were interviewed by the ACLU and he has no reason not to believe that their allegations are true.
Based on his own 17-year career in the system, Young said, he knows that in the police holdover, for example, "inmates are sleeping on top of each other. It's a bad scene.
"If you are a detainee, you still have fundamental rights as a citizen, including the right not be brutalized."
Speakers at the news conference emphasized that many people in the city jail are being held after arrest, but they have not been charged or convicted with any crime. One such person, Ken Hollenbeck, talked with reporters. He was not one of the inmates quoted in the ACLU report.
Hollenbeck said his experience in a holdover cell was "so dehumanizing." He was denied medication, he said, and "when I started to raise a stink about everything they put me on suicide watch."
Young said he had this advice for people from West County or south St. Louis who come downtown for events like a ball game of the St. Patrick's Day parade:
"Don't get arrested and end up in the Justice Center. It's not a good place to be."
Click here to read the ACLU report.