As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gain momentum across the US, activists are celebrating their latest victory after the St Louis Board of Aldermen unanimously passed legislation to close their jail by the end of the year.
The jail, which has been described as an “unspeakably hellish” extension of a racist and classist criminal justice system, will now be closing by the end of 2020.
Commonly known as the Workhouse, the medium-security institution in St Louis, Missouri, has gained a reputation for being a notorious debtors’ jail. This means that incarceration has been used as an answer to minor technical and fine-related violations, and large bond fees have been extracted from many people detained pre-trial.
The poor conditions in the jail have been known about for a long time. Blake Strode, from the nonprofit civil rights legal advocacy organisation ArchCity Defenders, told listeners of his podcast Under the Arch: “We must say, in no way did we discover these things for the first time… You can trace litigation against the Workhouse back to the 1970s. It was like the same things had been happening for decades.”
Inez Bordeaux, an organizer at ArchCity Defenders, said: “Today, there’s less than 90 people inside… It’s clear that no one can say the Workhouse, this hellhole, is still needed.”
The decrease in detainees over the last few years is, in part, due to the efforts of the not-for-profit organisations such as the Bail Project which covers the cost of bail for those in need and aims to combat mass incarceration.
The decision to close this jail reflects the BLM movement’s strength, but it also the need for pressure to ensure that important demands are not watered down into cosmetic reforms which don’t reflect any real change.