Inmates break windows, set fires, at St. Louis Justice Center

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Inmates yell from broken windows at the St. Louis Justice Center, known as the city jail, on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021 in St. Louis, Mo. Officials say inmates at the jail have set fires, broken out windows and thrown things from fourth-floor windows in the latest disturbance over conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic. A spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson says dozens of law enforcement officers are working to bring the situation under control. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (FOX2/AP)– Police say that there is a “very dangerous” situation unfolding at the Justice Center in downtown St. Louis Saturday morning. Inmates can be seen through shattered windows. They are out of their cells but are contained in the building.

The initial report of the disturbance was at around 2:30 am. The inmates set fires and tossed items out of the building.

Dozens of law enforcement officers were working to bring the situation under control at the St. Louis City Justice Center, a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, Jacob Long, said. About 115 inmates were involved, said Long, who described the group as “extremely violent and noncompliant” in an interview with The Associated Press. The disturbance began around 3 a.m., he said.

Some people gathered outside the downtown jail. Video posted on social media showed inmates holding signs on an upper floor while gathered at three windows that had been smashed out. Firefighters were using a hose to put out blazes.

“It is hard to see from the outside, of course, but the sheriff’s department and the police department have been here and are upstairs working to bring this under control,” Long said.

In late December and early January, dozens of inmates were transferred out of the St. Louis City Justice Center after two separate disturbances. Officials have said inmates were upset about conditions in the jail amid 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. But also they are acting out and that is the current situation.”

Long anticipated that 50 or 60 more inmates would be transferred out of the jail and into the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, also known as the workhouse, once the latest disturbance is brought under control.

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 amid the pandemic.

The Justice Center is a six-story building in downtown St. Louis. The city’s website reports that there are 885 inmates in the building. It is not clear how many of them got out of their cells last night.

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