Jails | St. Louis Public Radio

Jails

Tonya Harry, the chief of security at the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis photographed on May 1, 2019.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Tonya Harry had been working as a correctional officer for about a year when she had one of the most traumatic experiences of her life.

During her shift at the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis — also known as the Workhouse — she discovered an inmate who had died by suicide.

“Sometimes I still think about it,” said Harry, who serves as the jail’s chief of security more than 20 years later.

A recent St. Louis University survey of about 300 jail officers in Missouri found more than half reported symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri’s incarceration rate for women is among the highest in the country. 

The majority of these women have children, yet little research has examined the effects of incarceration on mothers specifically.

The St. Louis County Jail is located in the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton.
Nate Birt

St. Louis County will use federal grant money to offer medication-assisted treatment to some county jail inmates with opioid addictions.

The county will use $2 million, two-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to phase in treatment for inmates in Clayton’s Buzz Westfall Justice Center.

DeVonte Jones began to show signs of schizophrenia as a teenager. His first public episode was nine years ago at a ball game at Wavering Park in Quincy, Illinois.

“He snapped out and just went around and started kicking people,” said Jones’ mother Linda Colon, who now lives in Midlothian in the Chicago suburbs.


Whitney Gipson thanks supporters outside the St. Louis City Justice Center. Gipson is one of three women bailed out of jail by Expect Us activists ahead of Mother's Day. (May 12, 2018)
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Whitney Gipson was one of three women bailed out of jail before Mother’s Day thanks to the efforts of St. Louis activists. Expect Us raised nearly $3,000 through an online fundraiser. 

Members of Expect Us met with other advocates at the St. Louis Justice Center on Saturday. The event included food, children’s activities and short speeches by local demonstrators and leaders, including Democratic Missouri Rep. Bruce Franks.

Gipson, 26, told a small crowd about her experiences while staying at the city’s two jails.

Inmates at the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis look out during a protest on July 22, 2017.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Jail inmates at the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton stay for an average of 59 days before their cases are tried or dismissed. But 10 miles away, at the Medium Security Institution in the city of St. Louis, the typical prisoner waits for eight months.

The St. Louis jail, which does not have air conditioning in the men’s dorms, drew protests this summer after inmates cried for help during a heat wave. The city installed temporary cooling units at the facility, also known as the Workhouse, and extreme temperatures have since subsided. Inmates and their families say more must be done to improve conditions in the aging facility. But city officials say there isn’t much more they can do.

Beth Huebner and Herb Bernsen are in the second year of a MacArthur Foundation grant to reduce the St. Louis County jail population by 15-19 percent.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh led a discussion about UMSL and St. Louis County’s partnership to reduce the county’s jail population by 15 to 19 percent over two years.

Beth Huebner, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at UMSL, is the lead researcher on a $2.25 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that makes this work possible. She joined the show alongside Herb Bernsen, the director of justice services for St. Louis County, to discuss how the project is going.

The St. Louis County Jail is located in the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton.
Nate Birt

St. Louis County officials will soon decide whether to turn medical services at two county jails over to a private contractor. The decision is pending even as members of the medical community — including current justice center employees — have raised concerns over the dangers of privatizing healthcare in jail.