November 13, 2017
ArchCity Defenders filed a federal lawsuit against the City of St. Louis for violating the civil rights of plaintiffs held in the City’s Medium Security Institution, generally known as the Workhouse. Mostly presumed innocent and awaiting trial, people held in the jail reported rats, roaches, and snakes in their cells, a violent and dangerous environment permitted and promoted by guards, difficulty breathing due to black mold, and intolerable heat and cold due to the building’s age. The lawsuit alleges violations of the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments and requests monetary damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief in the form of closure of the Workhouse or fines for the City until the Workhouse meets constitutional requirements.
“People will continue to suffer unjustly in the Workhouse and in the streets of St. Louis until we shift our policies from criminalizing the poor and people of color to addressing the root issue of poverty,” said Blake Strode, incoming Executive Director of ArchCity Defenders. “Innocent or guilty, no one should ever be forced to endure the horrors described to us by our clients from their time in the Workhouse.”
“I wouldn’t wish the Workhouse on my worst enemy. I am here today so that the next generation does not have to endure what I did this summer in the Workhouse,” said Diedre Wortham, a single mother, grandma and plaintiff of ArchCity Defenders.
In July 2017, innocent people trapped inside the jail suffered 125 degree temperatures while awaiting trial. Building on a history of collaboration, ArchCity Defenders, St. Louis Action Council and Decarcerate St. Louis organized $25,000 and volunteers posted bond for fourteen men and women who were held pre-trial and could not afford cash bail to buy their freedom.
Diedre Wortham, a single mom and grandma, also a plaintiff from the Workhouse bailout, was arrested on a decade old traffic ticket. Ms. Wortham was hospitalized for high blood pressure after she was booked in the City Justice Center, and once she was transported to the Workhouse, was denied access to her medicine for a week. Ms. Wortham breathed through her t-shirt because of black mold and stuffed shirts under cell doors to prevent mice from coming in.
Unable to afford bail, Jasmine Borden was locked in jail awaiting her court date, and was evicted from her apartment, fired from her job, and forced to ask an out of state family member to watch her children.
Today at a press conference, plaintiffs James Cody and Diedre Wortham, ArchCity Defenders’ incoming Executive Director Blake Strode, Staff Attorney Nicole Nelson, Organizer Kennard Williams with M.O.R.E. and Decarcerate STL, and Jamala Rogers, Executive Director of Organization for Black Struggle, spoke about the lawsuit and the longstanding inhumane conditions at the Workhouse.
A link to the complaint can be found online here.
ArchCity Defenders is a nonprofit civil rights law firm committed to providing holistic legal advocacy and to combatting the criminalization of poverty and state violence against the poor and people of color.
Z. Gorley, Communications Director at ArchCity Defenders