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ACLU Wins Sunshine Lawsuit Against St. Louis Corrections

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During its efforts to improve the way inmates can complain about abuse, neglect, or poor conditions in the city's workhouse, the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri hit a brick wall.

When the inquiry started, they were cooperating with then-Corrections Commissioner Gene Stubblefield. Then Stubblefield was fired in December after a series of jail breaks and the collaboration fell apart.

"Our request for public records was -- it wasn't refused, it was ignored," says Tony Rothert, the ACLU-EM legal director.

The workhouses' troubles have been well-documented after a series of jailbreaks, mismanagement, and understaffing, but Rothert says the ACLU also hears complaints about things like, oh, guards setting up fights.

The ACLU's original request for "any and all records relating to the inmate grievance process" was sent on September 27, 2011, just 11 days after Stubblefield was suspended. A month later, Rothert wrote the corrections department again, saying they'd heard nothing back. Charles Bryson, then the director of public safety, replied that the person they'd been sending letters to was no longer an employee, but that an answer to the Sunshine Request would be sent in a matter of days. A month later, nothing.

Finally the ACLU did what the ACLU does -- filed a lawsuit against the city, the Department of Public Safety, and the Department of Corrections, saying its "knowing" or "purposeful" failure to turn over documents "causes irreparably injury to Plaintiffs and public by depriving them of public information to which they are entitled."

Read the whole lawsuit here.

"After we filed the lawsuit, however, the city promptly owned up to its errors and gave up the records they had," says Rothert. "They are to be commended for owning up to their failure to comply with the Sunshine Law."

A judge agreed in an order issued Wednesday in favor of the ACLU, ordering the city to fork over about $1,100 in attorneys fees.

Although Rothert concedes that the corrections department was likely in a fair amount of "chaos" during the last year, he says the fact that the city has to pay its lawyer bills says something about how the ACLU's requests got lost in the shuffle.

"You only get attorneys' fees and costs if it's knowing and purposeful," he says.

In the meantime, Rothert says some of the ACLU's recommendations for changes in the jail have already been implemented and they will continue to work on making grievance process more transparent.



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4 comments
Danieljoeoconnor
Danieljoeoconnor

yeah but what i mean is it is unfair to buy a pair of prison made jeans for 10 bucks while some poor schmuck is busting her @ss in some bluejean sweatshop "on the outside" trying to pay rent and put food on the table.  u. s, workers should not have to compete with slave labor be it china or federal prison or missouri jails.

Danieljoeoconnor
Danieljoeoconnor

workhouse?  first you talk about a workhouse and then jail.  i know we have jails that use their prisoners for slave labor.  i'm assuming that is what you're referring to.  i'm always shocked by the draconian actions from the missouri judicial like life in solitary for smoking mary jane  but do they actually have workhouses?

Martistl13
Martistl13

 Do your research*  that name is of Old Days *  There is no WORK - trust me all they do is  sit in their cells and  dream up how they can  cause trouble and fake complaints.  Total non- compliance to the  CO"S,  then  when they try to  keep them in check _   WHA WHA WHA  .  They are "INMATES"   THEY HAVE CABLE for heavens sake !   They spit and throw crappppp on the people trying to keep then in check.    HEY and if they did WORK ?    Whats wrong with that ?   I work ?  Do you work ?   We all work.   Its not a "MOTEL"

vras
vras

Hmm, sounds like you have first hand experience....not. This place is a hell hole that should be condemned, the food served the prisoners is run over by cockroaches, mice and rats, the roof leaks, there is one toilet for 60 men, the prisoners buy prepackaged food so they can actually eat and then riots break out by the guys that don't have loved ones sending them money for clean food. Yes, they have been arrested but not found guilty, just being held in this "motel from hell"  because they don't have the money to bond out. Human rights should not be stripped because you have been arrested.

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