Revitalized after inmate deaths, new St. Louis County jail board holds first meeting

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Johnny Shy's friends gather for a vigil outside the Justice Center in March 2019 after Shy's death in the jail.

After four deaths in or around the St. Louis County jail so far this year, the reconstituted Justice Services Advisory Board held its first meeting last week to figure out how to fix jail operations.

County Executive Sam Page announced last month that he nominated new members to serve on the Justice Services Advisory Board, which under past administrations had not been regularly meeting, in an attempt to address systemic issues at the Justice Center in Clayton.

The Buzz Westfall St. Louis County Justice Center, as seen in June 2019. Photo by Gloria Lloyd.

The board will meet regularly and advise the director of the Department of Justice Services regarding the jail’s policies and operations.

“Recent deaths of inmates in the county’s custody prompted us to improve the Justice Center and set it on a new course,” Page said in a news release. “Appointing a new advisory board will help us identify additional reforms we can implement at the Justice Center.”

Among the inmates who have died are Johnny Shy of Oakville and Daniel Stout III of Affton, who was in the jail and died an hour after being transported to a state prison.

The new members of the jail board are:

• Rev. Phillip Duvall, Social Justice Commissioner of the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri. He is the former senior pastor of Fifth Missionary Baptist Church and First Baptist Church Ballwin.

• Dr. Alexander Garza, chief medical officer at SSM Health. He is the former associate dean and professor at St. Louis University’s College of Public Health and Social Justice and the former assistant secretary and chief medical officer of the United States Department of Homeland Security.

• Twyla Lee, an educator and active participant in Color of Change, a civil-rights organization.

• Timothy McBride, a professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University. He serves as chair of the MO HealthNet Oversight Committee in the Missouri Department of Social Services.

• Jeff Smith, executive director of the Missouri Workforce Housing Association. He previously served as executive vice president of community engagement and policy at the Concordance Academy, was a state senator and wrote a book about his experiences with incarceration entitled “Mr. Smith Goes to Prison.”

• Mary Zabawa Taylor, a volunteer in the criminal justice ministry in the St. Louis County Justice Center. She is the former director of patient safety at Washington University School of Medicine and the former executive director of Voices for Children.

“These appointees are professional, thoughtful and diverse,” Page said. “We will look to this board for advice and counsel. And I will expect them to listen to our diverse community in formulating their reports.”

The board appointments are among many key changes at the Justice Center that Page has made during his nine weeks in office.

The county executive said, “Simply put, we can do better at the Justice Center. And the guidance of the Justice Services Advisory Board will help us do better.”