What is Close the Workhouse?

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The Close the Workhouse campaign aims to attack mass incarceration, without legitimizing or justifying the continued caging of people as punishment. We call for the closure of the Medium Security Institute, better known in St. Louis as the Workhouse, an end to wealth based pretrial detention, and the reinvestment of the money used to cage poor people and Black people into rebuilding the most impacted neighborhoods in this region.

The Workhouse is part and parcel of a racist and predatory system of mass incarceration that grew directly out of slavery and Jim Crow and works to perpetuate this shameful legacy in America. The story of the Workhouse illustrates this oppressive history.

The campaign is a collaboration of the individuals subjected to incarceration at the Workhouse and lawyers and activists engaged on the issue. The campaign’s three primary organizational partners work in collaboration everyday in St. Louis to get people free: Action St. Louis, ArchCity Defenders, and Bail Project St. Louis.

The Campaign emerges directly from the outcry that was the Ferguson Uprising. It is grounded in a commitment to end an ongoing war against Black people that has been waged against generations of families in St. Louis. Our aim is not to reform but rather dismantle a racist system that has destroyed lives and to abolish the practice of criminalizing the poor. We not only seek to close the workhouse but also to use the money currently spent to cage Black people to rebuild the most impacted communities. We embrace this task in order to vindicate the victims of the Workhouse and to secure future generations’ ability to thrive.

Please join us in this fight to permanently limit the City of St. Louis’s ability to cage poor people and Black people in this region. Help us share the report and plan throughout impacted communities in St. Louis. With your support, “this is a fight we can win, it is a fight we have to win”.



The Workhouse must be closed, and no new jail should be put in its place.

The City of St. Louis daily condemns hundreds of presumptively innocent people to suffer in unspeakably hellish and inhumane conditions at the Workhouse. St. Louis City’s Medium Security Institution (MSI) infamously inherited the name “the Workhouse” as detainees in earlier versions of the jail were sentenced to forced labor when they could not afford to pay their fines. Today, people routinely remain incarcerated due to their inability to afford unconstitutionally high cash bails. The vast majority of people held at the Workhouse are awaiting trial and remain caged and criminalized due to their poverty. They face horrific conditions in the jail, including extreme heat and cold, abysmal medical care, rats and cockroach infestations, and mold.



●  Over 90% of detainees are pre-trial which means they are in jail despite the fact that they have not been found guilty.

●  There are 8x more black detainees than there are white detainees, although only 47% of St. Louis City’s population is black.

●  The city’s annual budget for the Workhouse is $16 million, or over $25,000 per bed per year. The majority of these costs are paid for by St. Louis taxpayers.

●  The City claims to spend around $1,000 per month on pest control for the Workhouse.

●  Detainees and staff have spoken out against inhumane conditions for decades — infestation of rats and mice, black mold, unsanitary food, roaches, inadequate medical care, defunct toilets, showers and sinks and violence instigated by correctional officers.

● The Workhouse consistently holds detainees who require medication for mental illness, and who should be receiving treatment in the community, not left to sit in jail. The conditions of confinement also lead individuals to develop anxiety and depression, thereby increasing the number of people with mental health issues in St. Louis.

●  Individuals jailed at the Workhouse suffer from inadequate medical care, despite the fact that the city spends over $300,000 a month on inmate health care from a company that has had thousands of lawsuits against it across the country.

●  In July 2017, detainees screamed for help as temperatures in the Workhouse soared as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit, and rarely fell below 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

● An inmate stays for an average of 120 days, costing the city over $8,000. Many end up pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit just to get out of jail.


 St. Louis Mayor Krewson to direct the closure of the Workhouse.

●  St. Louis Board of Aldermen to legislate a closure of the Workhouse.

●  St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gardner to significantly reduce the number of people locked in the Workhouse because of their inability to pay bail.

By closing the Workhouse, St. Louis can achieve justice for thousands and focus on the important work of healing and rebuilding the communities where the Workhouse has brought suffering. Join the Close the Workhouse campaign in calling for St. Louisans to boldly reimagine our city’s failed criminal legal system and become a national leader in ending mass incarceration.