Cruel and Unusual at the City Workhouse

Jewish Light Editorial

After inmates at the St. Louis medium-security jail — better known as the infamous city workhouse — sweltered through last week’s heat, Mayor Lyda Krewson finally announced that the city has ordered four portable air conditioners for the facility. 

That was a good move. Too bad it had to come after demonstrators braved blistering 100-plus degrees to demand relief for prisoners in parts of the poorly run and maintained facility. The workhouse, which was built in 1966, has a long, sad history of a deplorable lack of sanitation, not to mention cruelty and sexual misconduct by guards.

On Friday, about 150 people demonstrated for about two hours while suffering inmates chanted and waved towels from windows. Shockingly, police used  pepper spray to disperse the crowd. 

Krewson’s ordering of air conditioning is welcome, but it is far too little, far too late. The Arch City Defenders civil rights agency and other groups have rightly demanded that this cruel and unusual hellhole be shut down for good.

As Jews, we are commanded by our Bible and Talmud to care for the strangers in our midst, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and see to it that prisoners are treated humanely. Tikkun olam is about repairing what is broken in our world.

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Often, when a proposal for another sports complex or upgrade comes along, it is amazing how fast millions of dollars in public and private funds can be found. Sadly, money to provide basic, humane conditions for jail inmates is never so easy to come by. 

We should not have to wait for another life-threatening heat wave to do the right thing and shut down and replace this embarrassing and dangerous facility.