April 8, 2021
St. Louis’s “unspeakably hellish” Workhouse jail has stood for generations as a symbol of injustice, systemic racism, and white supremacy. Last year, thanks largely to the fierce activism of the Close the Workhouse Coalition, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted unanimously for a bill that instructed the city of St. Louis to figure out how to shut it down.
But nothing happened. The mayor didn’t act.
Well, this Tuesday, St. Louis voted for a mayor who will finish the job. City Treasurer Tishaura Jones will become the first Black woman to ever serve as mayor of St. Louis. She pledged to close the Workhouse within 100 days of taking office. The long wait for justice to be done is nearly over—St. Louis voted for change.
A Transformational Mandate
This is a huge victory for the activists, advocates, and everyday city residents who’ve pushed for years to shutter a facility that served as a constant reminder of how the criminal legal system has criminalized poverty and Black and Brown skin.
It’s also a victory for everyone who’s ever been incarcerated there, and for their families and their communities as well. The Workhouse is part of an ineffective, brutal, and racist system that prioritizes policing and punishment over people, a system that has consistently exploited rather than invested in communities of color. That’s why Mayor-elect Jones has promised to do more than just close the Workhouse. She’s planning to fundamentally transform the city’s approach to public safety and community building.
Jones wants to spend the millions of dollars that are wasted operating the Workhouse every year on the community—on substance-use programs, counseling, affordable housing, and more. She wants to decarcerate St. Louis, end money bail, expand diversion programs, and transform public safety. On April 6, St. Louisans put a leader in office with a clear mandate to invest in communities of color and prioritize equity and justice.
The People’s Agenda
Closing the Workhouse is a big deal, and we absolutely must make sure St. Louis elected officials finish the job. But once that’s done, it’s even more critical to completely overhaul the system that gave rise to it so that nothing like the Workhouse can happen again.
That’s the inspiration behind the People’s Plan, an exciting new vision for the city put forward by a coalition of St. Louis activists and organizations.
Centuries of racism and white supremacy have created two different St. Louises, one for white people and one for Black and Brown people. The People’s Plan invites everyone to imagine what a city that truly cared for the safety, health, and well-being of all its residents might look like. Imagine a city that decriminalizes poverty and invests in communities of color, that builds affordable housing and fights for environmental justice, that sends counselors not cops to help a person in crisis, that invests in education and treats all people with dignity and respect.
Let’s make sure the new mayor starts putting this plan into action.
It’s a New Day in St. Louis
This is a hopeful day, St. Louis! You voted for change. You voted for accountability and justice. You sent a message that the time has finally come to close the Workhouse and invest in communities of color.
Now it’s up to all of us to make sure St. Louis’s newly elected leaders follow through on their promises. Support the People’s Plan and together St. Louisans will set a new revitalizing course for their city.
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