March 6, 2021

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Desperate conditions, including covid exposure, prompted St. Louis jail unrest, say inmate activists

By Eric Berger and Mark Berman

ST. LOUIS — Inmate advocates and attorneys said Monday that they are not surprised at a weekend uprising at the jail here during which inmates smashed windows and set fires and a corrections officer ended up hospitalized.

“They are desperate in there, and anyone would be at this point,” Erika Wurst, a lawyer with the St. Louis public defender’s office, said of the more than 700 people detained at the St. Louis Justice Center, a six-story building a few blocks from the city’s riverfront.

Wurst and other advocates allege that inmates have been mistreated during the coronavirus pandemic, left in de facto solitary confinement and minded by jail staffers who do not maintain proper safety protocols. City officials, meanwhile, defended their management of the facility, saying they have provided appropriate treatment and protective equipment.