Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper will step down in September | Pittsburgh City Paper

Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper will step down in September

click to enlarge Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper will step down in September
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Orlando Harper
Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper announced today that he will retire in September after 11 years heading the administration.

In a press release, Harper said he had planned to stay through the end of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's term, which concludes in December, but a change in family circumstances prompted him to leave sooner.

“I have been honored to serve in this role for over a decade and am announcing my retirement with mixed feelings,” Harper says in the release.

Harper's administration has come under heightened scrutiny in recent years as deaths have risen inside the jail while reports of inadequate food and medical care have inflamed the county's activist community.

These concerns and others have bubbled over during meetings of the Jail Oversight Board, where the June 8 meeting was cut short by the presiding member after a demonstration song broke out from among the audience.

Since April 2020, 15 people have died in custody according to the administration's records, although more have died after being released to hospital following a medical event inside the jail.

A press release from Fitzgerald's office compliments Harper's record and lists off multiple achievements, including getting accredited by the American Correctional Association and Pennsylvania Department of Corrections in 2018, expanding the jail's reentry program "to offer additional job training opportunities that match incarcerated individuals with training," and working with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care to identify ways to reduce suicides.

Harper likewise stands by his record.

"I have always preferred to let actions speak louder than words — sometimes to my detriment,” he says in a statement. “Regardless of the public narrative about the jail, I’ve seen first-hand the great work done here every day."

Fitzgerald's office says President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark of the common pleas court will engage a third-party firm to lead the search for Harper's successor, noting the process took more than a year the last time around.

"That firm will be tasked with putting together a full profile on the county and jail and will also be responsible for providing opportunities for the community to weigh in on the type of person that should be selected and the priorities that the person should have for the facility and its operations," according to the release.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to show the June JOB meeting was adjourned by members of the board. A previous version wrongly indicated Harper walked out before the board took action.

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By Mars Johnson