ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) – What we have here is failure. That’s how Public Safety Director Charles Bryson explained the four escapes under his watch since April.
“There was a failure both of the facility and there was a failure of human error,” Bryson testified during a city hall hearing.
While assigning most of the blame to others, Bryson took blame himself for failing to fill 30 vacancies among jail staff in the past year.
“We have not been fully staffed for quite a long time and frankly that’s a disgrace and I will take blame for that,”Bryson testified.
Speaking before the Public Safety Committee of the St. Louis Board of Alderman, Bryson described an understaffed jail system, filled over capacity with inmates eager to exploit design flaws to escape.
He took aim at the downtown City Justice Center (CJC) on Tucker Blvd, which was built only about a decade ago and was supposed to be “full proof.” The facility is designed to hold up to 750 inmates and currently has some 800.
“CJC in some respects is not the best facility that it could have been,” Bryson said, “And so there are a number of holes in the construction that lend itself for, if you study it long enough, and you’re an inmate there for 170 plus days, you’re going to try to find a weakness.”
Bryson also criticized the design features of the Medium Security Institution (MSI) on Hall Street along the riverfront in north St. Louis — the scene of the most recent escape — where some 1,100 inmates are housed.
“The latest escape had to do with glass block, which all of us would have assumed was impenetrable ,” Bryson said, “as well as the pods, so we had two breaches.”
Bryson also blamed jail guards for failing to prevent escapes from happening. “There might have been a methodology for determining that an inmate was attempting to escape that we had not considered,” Bryson said.
To fix the problems, Bryson promised to fill the 30 open positions “by October or November” and added that more barbed wire, motion detectors and more guard positions are planned.
Looking for some way to lower jail population, Bryson glossed over his plan to work with the courts and prosecutors to keep some potential inmates on the streets.
“We do not want to harm security in our neighborhoods, but there’s a variety of mechanisms that we can look at to reduce our population without harming neighborhood security,” Bryson said.
That proposal upset Alderman Fred Wessels. “If we need to have 1,900 people in prison I say, fine, let’s not let them out,” Wessels said, “I don’t think we have anybody behind bars that shouldn’t be there.”
Other Aldermen — Chairman Greg Carter and Alderwoman April Ford Griffin — questioned why Bryson had failed to use money allocated some time ago to fill vacancies and shore up security.
“We allocated some money over to the Public Safety Department for the jails,” Carter said, “and a lot of money was not spent. It was for personnel and some other items. The question is, what happened?”
Bryson testified that he’s been “busy” trying to hire new jail personnel and run them through background checks and training classes. A class of 15 is scheduled to graduate in October.
Absent from the hearing was the suspended Corrections Commissioner Gene Stubblefield. Stubblefield was put on leave Friday, just hours before the latest escape. KMOX attempted to contact Stubblefield for comment. He says he is not authorized to speak. He faces an internal investigation. Mayor Slay’s office says the focus of the probe is the escapes, and Stubblefield is not accused of any criminal wrongdoing.
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