Oversight board gets Justice Center tour after more than a year’s wait

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ST. LOUIS – After 18 months of waiting and petitioning, the Detention Facilities Oversight Board finally got a tour of the troubled St. Louis City Justice Center jail in downtown.

“Today’s a new day; today’s a first step,” DFOB Chair Darryl Gray said outside the City Justice Center on Tuesday.

It was a step that came with some hurdles. Each board member needed to complete a 16-hour security training before entering the jail, training that Gray felt was “obstructing” access.

“We felt as a board the training, the way it was constructed, was to delay us and deny us accessibility,” Gray said.

The DFOB originally wanted a two-hour tour of the facility’s medical unit and to speak with detainees and correctional officers, but that did not happen. Instead, the board met with Commissioner of Corrections Jennifer Clemmons-Abdullah for about an hour. Gray said the meeting was productive but that more access needed to be granted.

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“If there’s no transparency, if there’s no accountability, if there’s no access, then we have no other choice then to push as far as we can within the boundaries of the ordinance to make sure we are able to do our job,” Gray said.

The DFOB received about 35 complaints about the CJC. In the last couple of years, several prisoners have died there, most recently 32-year-old Carlton Bernard of Jennings, who died due to a lack of insulin and dehydration.

“In the last several years, there’s been 10 deaths,” Alderman Rasheen Aldridge Jr. said. “Under this jail commissioner, there’s been seven alone. That’s unacceptable.”

Gray is hopeful Tuesday afternoon’s meeting could lead to a working relationship between the DFOB and the CJC.

“If given an opportunity, we can work together, board and (jail) staff to make this facility safer and healthier for detainees, correctional officers and administrative staff combined,” Gray said.

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