"We Want Court Dates!"
Windows broken, TVs smashed, fires set; the inmates in St. Louis jails are not having it. On April 25, 2021, pictures and videos went viral of inmates of the St. Louis Justice Center hanging out the broken windows of their cells. The men threw chairs and other objects to onlookers down below as they chanted, "We want court dates!" This was not the first riot that has taken place in St. Louis jails.
In February, inmates of the same jail caused a similar disturbance, according to local reports. It took law enforcement hours to calm that riot. During that outbreak, detainees were able to manipulate their cells' locks and walk around the jail. When asked, Jacob Long, a spokesperson for the Mayor, Lyda Krewson’s office said, "two violent and dangerous disturbances" originated from two units on the third floor beginning at approximately 8:30 p.m. “Detainees covered security cameras, smashed windows, and destroyed property,” Long said. When asked, officials for the St. Louis Police Department and Justice Center did not respond. However, a former correctional officer did respond. He used to work at Eastern Reception Diagnostic Corrections Center (ERDCC) and the Missouri Department of Corrections, so he worked closely with many prisoners.
When I asked a former correctional officer’s viewpoint, who wanted to remain anonymous, on all the riots, he answered “any riot is not a good thing. Inmates/prisoners have a way to voice their opinions. A grievance is a form of written complaint plus other lines [of communication],” but he wants prisoners to understand that in a time of a major pandemic, people have to have more patients because there are extra steps the prisons and court systems need to go through. He believes that the backed-up court system is one of the reasons these riots are happening. His job as a correctional officer was to enforce the rules inside jails or prisons, so he had some ideas as to why these riots were happening in the first place. “The amount of staffing is a big issue with this. You have officers working 12-16 hour shifts all 5 days of the workweek. Staff is tired and on edge most of the time. Also, when you don’t have staff, you [must] start shutting down programs and extra activities the offenders get i.e.- inside rec, gym. Stuff along those lines.” While a riot has never taken place in a facility he worked at, there was constant fear one would. He did, however, have two disturbances or organized disobediences as they classify them. He outlined what is defined as a riot as well: three or more offenders had to destroy over a certain amount of property or have inflicted serious injury to other offenders or staff.
While he did not want to comment on why these riots were happening in the St. Louis jails “due to the fact I have never been inside their prisons and how they run stuff,” he did talk to me about the punishments the prisoners can ensue if they were to take part in a riot. “Offenders can be charged with property damage, if serious injury occurred, offenders can be charged, with assault weapons found they can be charged with that.” In the facility he worked at, while no riots have happened yet, they have precautions in place to keep them from happening and punishments themselves. “We have certain protocols and specialized teams that can be activated to come help gain control.” As a punishment in his former facility, “the offenders [that had] taken place in the riot will be placed in administrative segregation which is where they are locked up 24/7 and the only time they come out of their cells they would be in full restraints.”
So, no matter why these riots are happening, every facility has its own precautions and way to calm down the prisoners. And while everyone has a right to a fair and speedy trial like the prisoners are demanding, the court systems are held up and the prisons are just asking for the prisoners’ patience and cooperation.