St. Louis jail head warned about staffing before escapes

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Recently released documents show a St. Louis jail commissioner who was suspended after several escapes by inmates had sent repeated warnings to officials about low staffing and other problems.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/pKL1dT) that there were three jailbreaks over two years under Gene Stubblefield's watch. The same day he was suspended as commissioner of corrections, another inmate escaped from the city's Medium Security Institution near the riverfront. Other reasons for his suspension from the city post included concerns over financial management and a sharp rise in employee overtime.

But emails and memos released by Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed's office show Stubblefield had repeatedly warned officials in Mayor Francis Slay's office that he wasn't being allowed to do his job and had lost key personnel. As a result, Stubblefield said, jail security was compromised.

"The blame for this goes higher than (Public Safety Director) Charles Bryson and up to the Mayor who appointed him to our largest and most important department which oversees the safety of our citizens," Reed said.

Slay's office said the escapes had nothing to do with staffing levels and that the jails were fully staffed at the times of all four incidents.

The documents show that in July 2010, Stubblefield questioned an investigation into one of the jailbreaks. "I must reiterate my concern that an investigation into a serious breach of security has either been canceled or postponed to the detriment of the Division," he wrote.

Then, in February of this year, Stubblefield pleaded for more managers to oversee jail operations and security. In April, when Bryson did not fill the positions Stubblefield sought and requested other cuts, the corrections chief again questioned his bosses' decision, writing that the division had lost "numerous" managers and supervisors to budget cuts.

Less than two weeks later, Stubblefield wrote that there was a direct relationship between the positions he was seeking and "the safety and security of staff, inmates and the general public."

Soon after, two inmates escaped from the Justice Center downtown by crawling through an access panel in the ceiling of the infirmary.

A memo Stubblefield wrote to Bryson in July showed the relationship between the two officials was growing strained. Among other things, the memo said that Bryson had accused Stubblefield of being too close to the day-to-day management despite not having enough managers on staff.

"At the advice of legal consultation," Stubblefield continued in his memo, "I am requesting that you grant me a reasonable period of time to have legal representation in any future meetings with you to discuss any issues relative to my work performance. I make this request expecting that litigation may be imminent."

On July 27, an inmate walked through an open gate and jumped the fences of the Medium Security Institution. He was captured a day later.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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