Workhouse | St. Louis Public Radio

Workhouse

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.

An activist campaign calls on city officials to shut down St. Louis' medium-security jail, commonly known as the Workhouse.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The inmate who died at St. Louis' Medium Security Institution (MSI) in August died of an accidental fentanyl overdose, the autopsy report shows.

Louis L. Payton, 48, was the latest inmate to die at the facility known as the Workhouse this year. He was the fifth inmate to die in custody at a city jail this year, according to records St. Louis Public Radio received in August from the city.

Celestine Buford, a cousin of Louis Payton, said jail officials have not told her family about the details surrounding Payton's death at the St. Louis Medium Security Institution.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

UPDATED at 12:35 p.m. on Aug. 20 with statement from St. Louis Medical Examiner's Office saying the autopsy would take eight to 15 weeks.

Jail-reform advocates are calling conditions at St. Louis' Medium Security Institution into question again after a man collapsed there and later died at a hospital last week.

Police are not identifying the inmate. But a group of people who say they are the former inmate’s relatives told media and local activists the man’s name is Louis Lynn Payton.

Workhouse protest, July 2017
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Activists will rally Wednesday outside the City Justice Center of St. Louis to launch an effort to shut down the city's Medium Security Institution, commonly known as the Workhouse.

The Close the Workhouse campaign comes as progressive politicians across the country look for ways to address criminal justice reform and large cities, such as Philadelphia and New York, take steps to reform their court systems. Close the Workhouse organizers hope their work can lead to change in St. Louis.