ACLU of Eastern Missouri Says City and Union Officials Walked Away from City Jail Oversight Negotiations and Restricted Access to Inmates

March 2, 2011--The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri (ACLU-EM) today said that St. Louis City officials and union representatives have walked away from negotiations to create an independent oversight agency for the St. Louis jails. “These negotiations were carried out at the behest of the Board of Aldermen,” said Brenda Jones, Executive Director of the ACLU-EM. “After a year of productive negotiations, it is tragic that some officials of the city have walked away, even as the accusations of abuse escalate. ”

In a letter to the Chair of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee, the ACLU-EM says that the negotiations were fruitful from the fall of 2009 until the summer of 2010. The group seemed close to agreement on the powers that would be granted an independent oversight group that would monitor human rights abuse in the Medium Security Institute and the St. Louis Justice Center. However, in July of 2010 when the proposal went to city attorneys for a review of its various provisions, it disappeared. Since then, the ACLU-EM has been unable to get answers regarding when the attorneys would be finished with their review. “Our negotiating partners ignored our requests to set a deadline for the city attorney’s work, and, with the exception of Alderman Kennedy, they began ignoring our various attempts to communicate, “ says, ACLU-EM Program Director John Chasnoff. “After so many months without progress, we finally decided it was our duty to inform the Board of Aldermen that the talks were dead.”

The negotiations were precipitated by a report issued by the ACLU-EM in March of 2009. Entitled Suffering in Silence: Human Rights Abuses in St. Louis Correctional Centers, the report was authored by Program Associate Redditt Hudson and detailed physical abuse and medical neglect at the jails. Hearings by the aldermanic Committee on Public Safety were followed by a unanimous resolution by the full Board that the ACLU-EM and city officials work together to create an independent oversight agency. Negotiators included Chasnoff and Hudson, Director of Public Safety Charles Bryson, Commissioner of Corrections Eugene Stubblefield, Jo Ann Williams, President of the Carpenters’ Union which represents corrections officers, and Alderman Terry Kennedy.

On December 20, 2010, Jail officials informed the ACLU-EM that the city was changing its policy regarding visitation. From that date only the inmates’ defense attorneys have been granted enhanced status. The ACLU-EM, which had been seeing inmates as Professional Visitors, has been reduced to the status of Social Visitor. The change has greatly impeded the ACLU-EM’s ability to respond quickly to allegations of abuse. “We were able previously to get in to see someone within 24 hours,” says Hudson. “Now we must contact each inmate, usually through a family member, and hear back from them that a specific appointment has been set up. As a result our access is significantly delayed. Depending on the circumstances it could take days, or weeks.”

Since the change in policy, the ACLU-EM has heard reports of inconsistent enforcement, with some family members and friends being allowed visits without the multiple steps required of the ACLU-EM.

Access was reduced while the ACLU-EM was in the midst of an investigation into serious accusations of abuse. The organization had received multiple accusations that two inmates were repeatedly beaten by guards. A third inmate claimed to have witnessed the abuse, and further accused a guard of bribing him to assault the other two. One of the alleged victims attempted to hang himself, and stated afterwards to relatives that he did so because he could no longer take the repeated beatings.

“Accusations such as these need to be investigated immediately,” says Chasnoff. “Inmates should have unfettered access to an attorney when their civil rights may have been violated, and the public interest can only be served by greater transparency as well. There is great urgency in getting our negotiations, and the entire process, back on track so that the human rights of inmates can be respected.”

Phyllis Young, chair of the Public Safety Committee, has told the ACLU-EM that she has communicated with all the parties in an effort to restart the negotiations.

Read the 112910 Letter to Alderwoman Young

Contact: Debbie Read?

Executive Assistant

?(314) 652-3114 ext. 22?