Jail Inmates Riot Over COVID

Court cases in St. Louis are behind, family visits are limited during pandemic
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 6, 2021 3:10 PM CST
Inmates Set Fires in Riot Over COVID Conditions
Inmates set a fire at the St. Louis Justice Center Saturday in St. Louis.   (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Inmates at a St. Louis jail set fires, caused flooding, broke out fourth-floor windows and tossed a stationary bike, chairs, mattresses, and other objects out of the building Saturday in the latest disturbance over coronavirus conditions and restrictions that have limited visits and stalled court proceedings, officials said. Dozens of law enforcement officers worked for hours before bringing the riot at the St. Louis City Justice Center under control shortly before 10 a.m., said a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, Jacob Long. About 115 inmates were involved, said Long, who described the group as "extremely violent and noncompliant," the AP reports. One corrections officer was attacked and treated at a hospital for his injuries before being released, Long said. No detainees were hurt, he said. Video posted on social media by passersby showed inmates standing near three windows on the fourth floor that had been smashed out. Some carried signs or tossed items, some ablaze, to the sidewalk below. Firefighters used a hose to put out the fires.

Long didn't have a cost estimate for the damage but described it as "fairly extensive." He said 65 inmates were transferred from the downtown jail to the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, also known as the Workhouse. In late December and early January, dozens of inmates were transferred from the St. Louis City Justice Center after two separate disturbances. Officials have said inmates were upset about conditions in the jail during the pandemic. Although there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the 633 people jailed at the St. Louis Justice Center as of Friday, tensions have been simmering. "I imagine they are under the same amount of stress due to COVID restrictions like the rest of us are,” Long said. "Courts haven’t been hearing cases in the 22nd Judicial Circuit. Their family visits have been restricted." Activists have protested conditions at the Workhouse for years, but plans to close it have stalled, with backers of keeping it open saying it provides a way to space out inmates during the pandemic. "These events demonstrate the need to have two facilities at this time," Long said.

(Read more inmates stories.)

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