Last night, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights posted bail on behalf of Jeffrey Rozelle and David Dixon, two of the named plaintiffs in a federal civil rights class action attacking unconstitutional pretrial detention in the City of St. Louis.The lawsuit was filed on January 28, 2019 by ArchCity Defenders, Advancement Project, Civil Rights Corps, and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law.
“We can no longer stand by while the criminal legal system cages our brothers and sisters simply because they cannot afford to purchase their freedom,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Today, we join the efforts led by local organizers in St. Louis in demanding the closure of The Workhouse and the end of wealth-based detention in St. Louis and across our country once and for all.”
The bails posted today in support of the Close The Workhouse campaign and civil rights litigation in St. Louis are part of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ nationwide efforts to draw attention to unconstitutional bail practices and support local efforts to reform the criminal legal system. While media has recently focused its attention on the lack of heat at the federally operated Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, people jailed at the Workhouse suffer without blankets, heat, and winter clothing every day. Local organizers and government officials are convinced this jail must be closed and none built in its place.
“People across the country are hearing our call to stop the suffering being perpetrated by this stain on our community,” said Montague Simmons, Campaign Lead for the Close The Workhouse Campaign. “We are proud to partner with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights to ensure neither Mr. Rozelle nor Mr. Dixon has to spend one more day in a cage. And we will not stop until the Workhouse is permanently shuttered.”
The Workhouse is the region’s most notorious jail, known for gladiator fights, inadequate medical care, infestations of rodents and insects, and extreme temperatures during the winter and summer. The Close The Workhouse Campaign is comprised of Action St. Louis, The Bail Project, and ArchCity Defenders with support from Advancement Project National Offices. The campaign issued an in depth report in September of 2018 calling for the permanent closure of the the Medium Security Institute -- colloquially known as “The Workhouse” because of its history as a debtors’ prison -- and for the money currently spent on it to be invested in the communities most impacted by mass incarceration. The campaign demands that the $16 million spent annually on the jail be invested in affordable housing, public transportation, and community based mental health care, among others.
The litigation supports the goals of the Close the Workhouse Campaign by attacking the illegal procedures defendants use to jail more than 1,000 people solely because of their inability to make cash payment to purchase their freedom. Judges in the City of St. Louis routinely ignore Missouri Supreme Court rules and Constitutional law resulting in 90% of people being locked in the City of St. Louis's cages are held there because of cash bail. This illegal detention scheme impacts low-income communities of color the most. There are 8 times as many Black detainees as white detainees in the jail, even though the City of St. Louis is only 47% Black.
By challenging the overtly illegal policies and practices that lead to so many poor people and Black people from the City of St. Louis losing their freedom, the lawsuit will ultimately lead to policy change that will reduce the jail's population enough that it can be closed permanently and the money used to fund it is reinvested in the most impacted communities. The suit is part of a national movement to end pretrial detention and permanently shutter jails and prisons in order to permanently end the state's capacity incarcerate human beings.