Aldermen support increased surveillance of Saint-Louis prisons

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The civilian oversight of St. Louis prisons is one more step towards coming into force.

The council of aldermen on Tuesday narrowly gave first-round approval to a measurement which creates the Supervisory Board of Detention Facilities. Its nine members – six appointed by the mayor and three by the chairman of the public security committee – are said to investigate living and working conditions in the city’s prisons. They would also serve as advisers to the mayor on facilities.

Alderman Joe Vaccaro of the 23rd arrondissement, the sponsor of the measure, has resisted several attempts to delay a vote to address concerns about the legal and financial details of the bill.

“Every day we play and debate, just remember people are not getting the help they need,” he said.

Those who voted against the measure, such as 24th Ward Alderman Bret Narayan, said they agreed the prison needed additional monitoring, but had questions about the details.

“I admire the empathy of the alderman of the 23 [Vaccaro] on this issue, ”Narayan said. “What I don’t want to do here is create something that won’t do the job that we would like it to do.”

A spokeswoman for Mayor Tishaura Jones said she agreed there should be extra oversight for corrections, but wanted to make sure the appropriate resources were available.

Jones has his own proposal to create a separate department that would house both the Civilian Corrections and Police Oversight Boards. This bill has not yet been introduced.

Reduced marijuana penalties

Aldermen also sent Jones a measure on Tuesday that aligns city ordinances with a medical marijuana program approved by voters in 2018 by further reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of drugs. The mayor said in a statement that she was eager to sign “this essential bill”.

When it comes into effect, the smell of marijuana or the presence of a joint would no longer be sufficient reason to arrest someone. The city would also no longer be allowed to spend resources chasing someone with a small amount of marijuana or paraphernalia like pipes.

City workers could avoid being disciplined or fired for a positive drug test, although being high at work is still not allowed.

Extension of the mask’s mandate

The aldermen again extended on Tuesday a public health decree which requires anyone over 5 years old to wear masks in indoor public places or on public transport. A vote every 30 days is required by legislation approved in May.

The vote came on the same day as a Cole County judge rejected state regulations give certain powers to local directors of health. It was not clear whether the ruling applied to mask requirements approved by local lawmakers, ordinances that limit capacity or hours of operation.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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