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Representatives of Catholic entities involved in oversight of jail overhaul

Nominees include representatives of SSM Health, Criminal Justice Ministry

Dr. Garza
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced June 20 that he has nominated new members to serve on a Justice Services Advisory Board, including the chief medical officer of SSM Health.

“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. “Appointing a new advisory board will help us identify additional reforms we can implement at the Justice Center.”

The board will meet regularly and advise the director of the Department of Justice Services regarding the policies and operations at the county jail in Clayton.

Dr. Alexander Garza, chief medical officer at SSM Health previously served as associate dean and professor at Saint Louis University’s College of Public Health and Social Justice and as assistant secretary and chief medical officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He said Justice Center reforms should consider serving the imprisoned with appropriate social services and health care, as it could lead to better outcomes for the imprisoned and the community at large. Garza noted that human dignity is the foundation for the Catholic moral vision, and at SSM Health, “we promote the dignity and well-being of every person, because all are created in the image and likeness of God.”

Pope Francis, he said, “has provided us with a great model of humility and service by washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday. Catholic health care must follow that model by distinguishing itself in caring for the vulnerable, which often includes the imprisoned who still retain their basic human rights, including access to health care. We also are aware that many in prison are struggling with addiction, mental illness and other illnesses that lead to arrest and incarceration.”

The nominees, subject to County Council confirmation, also include Mary Zabawa Taylor, a volunteer with the Criminal Justice Ministry in the St. Louis County Justice Center, who is a former director of patient safety at Washington University School of Medicine and former executive director of Voices for Children.

Other members include Rev. Phillip Duvall, social justice commissioner of the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri; Twyla Lee, an educator and active participant in Color of Change; Timothy McBride, a professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University; and Jeff Smith, executive director of the Missouri Workforce Housing Association.

Anthony D’Agostino, executive director of the Criminal Justice Ministry, which receives funding from the Annual Catholic Appeal, called the creation of the advisory board a good step. He praised the inclusion of Taylor and Smith, who also have been involved with the ministry, though they are independent voices on the board. D’Agostino has spoken to county officials about the county’s work on a new charter. He’s seeking to include supportive justice re-entry efforts in the charter, which currently gives no direction on treating inmates in a humane way. “We are seeing some of the repercussions of that,” D’Agostino said.

The St. Louis County Department of Justice Services is responsible for the overall management, operation and security of the St. Louis County Jail in Clayton.

According to a description of the agency on the St. Louis County website, the department “not only provides secure custody and supervision to incarcerated individuals through direct supervision, but we also provide the guidance necessary for individuals to improve their lives before re-entering the community.”

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