GRAND CENTER – The Close the Workhouse campaign convened last Thursday evening at the Deaconess Foundation for what they called a “People’s Budget Hearing” for constituents, whom they say probably couldn’t make Mayor Lyda Krewson’s 10 a.m. public budget meeting.
Campaigners added the $16 million Workhouse operational cost to their list of reasons to close the medium security institution. The say that sum of the city budget could be allocated toward proactive community initiatives.
St. Louis City Treasurer Tishaura Jones, a proponent of closing the Workhouse, spoke at the hearing, asserting that “spending more than half the city budget on public safety is shameful and ineffective.”
Continuing, she said, “It’s [the Workhouse] more than just an outdated facility. We need to stop spending money on this arrest and incarcerate model because it doesn’t do anything to decrease or deter crime,” she said.
The $16 million, she said, could be invested in fighting the root causes of crime and building substance abuse and homeless shelters.
“We need to be against anything that keeps people from economic stability and mobility and from being their full selves and realizing their dreams, because people are just surviving. We want people to thrive,” she said.
Likening the city’s budgeting process and provisions to the unpopular Better Together plan, Jones said that having just one person, the mayor, responsible for 1.4 million people isn’t a representative government.
The Close the Workhouse organizers categorically reject Better Together, deducing that its backers’ interests coincide with economic-slavery-pushing institutions like the Workhouse.
Mere mention of the ulterior-planned and PR-named Better Together set off Kayla Reed, leader of Action St. Louis and supporter of the Close the Workhouse campaign.
“My grandmother used to say, ‘Make sure your house is in order before you run up on somebody else’s property,’” Reed said, expounding, “So the county can have some internal dialogue about its property, and once it looks like a beautiful partner, we can TALK about marriage.”
Reed then dismissed Better Together as an immature collaborative plan that needs to first look at possible consolidations within the county.
“There could be consolidation within the county,” she said, referencing the North County Collaborative. “So I think there’s a process that goes about it, and I think the Better Together hasn’t been a community-driven process.”
She pointed out that Better Together isn’t a city or county government-sanctioned program but a privately well-connected entity that is attempting to position itself in proximity to power in a way that everyday people aren’t aware of.
“And that needs to be scrutinized: if a private entity is investing such money to put forth a proposal then the private entity probably benefits over the people,” she said.
Close the Workhouse organizer Montague Simmons has his eyes set on moving quickly to confront the mayor directly before the budget is finalized.
Attendees at the hearing were handed cards to fill out their community wishes for $16 million, which Williams plans to deliver to the mayor’s office.
“We hope some of it can land in communities. That’s happened in the past and we’ve had some beautiful stuff,” Simmons said.
A Close the Workhouse report that the campaign relayed at the hearing outlines four steps to closing the medium security institution:
- Release individuals detained pretrial
- Close the Workhouse
- Decline to prosecute and criminalize individuals
- Reinvest money from arrest-and-incarcerate to community well-being.
The report, however, does not address potential future incarceration spikes from shifts in political power to those in favor of the arrest and incarcerate model. Furthermore, City Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, who opposes closing the jail, recently told the Post-Dispatch, “Prisoner counts could increase again if various initiatives that have helped reduce the pretrial jailing of people charged with nonviolent felonies are cut back.”
And moving them to the City Justice Center isn’t a possibility as the Downtown jail “doesn’t have enough space,” as the mayor pointed out to The Post. And, if Justice Center did have enough space to re-house detainees, consideration would have to be given to the continued, necessary prisoner/corrections officer ratio and salaries, a large part of the Workhouse budget.
However, the report, which says 96 percent of detainees have to pay bail to be released pretrial, concludes that significantly lowered rates of pretrial release could result in sufficient enough decarceration to close the Workhouse.
To view the Close the Workhouse report visit: www.closetheworkhouse.org. To sign a petition, go to closetheworkhouse on social media.