Kayla Reed | St. Louis Public Radio

Kayla Reed

Activists with the Close the Workhouse campaign call on Mayor Lyda Krewson to close down the jail as she arrives for a segment on St. Louis on the Air.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

What started out as a viral video exposing the poor conditions detainees were facing inside St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution — also known as the Workhouse — has turned into a three-year-long effort to shut it down. In 2017, activists and civil rights organizations Action St. Louis, ArchCity Defenders and Bail Project St. Louis began pursuing calls to action to close it. 

The facility largely houses people who have not been convicted of a crime and cannot afford bail. Conditions inside have reportedly included black mold, dangerously high and low temperatures, moldy food and “rats as big as cats.” 

The city has since invested in renovating the facility, but this week, the Close the Workhouse campaign announced its relaunch with a newly updated report. And now, it has a new ally.

Lamya Orr tries to greet a friend who is inside the Workhouse while standing outside the gate with his children and their mother.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Since Thomas Harvey helped start ArchCity Defenders in 2009, he has delivered legal representation to homeless and working poor people throughout St. Louis. But now, Harvey is taking part in a nationwide effort that could get tens of thousands of people out of jail while they await a trial.

Harvey is relocating to Los Angeles to take a position with the Bail Project, which is seeking to pay the bails of roughly 160,000 people over the next few years. The organization plans to set up operations in 40 cities, including St. Louis. Harvey says the work will change lives and communities — and provide momentum to an existing activist movement to end cash bail.