CP Jail Watch: Correctional officers blast ACJ working conditions in new survey | Pittsburgh City Paper

CP Jail Watch: Correctional officers blast ACJ working conditions in new survey

click to enlarge CP Jail Watch: Correctional officers blast ACJ working conditions in new survey
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Allegheny County Jail

Hours of public comment made during June’s Jail Oversight Board meeting centered around the overwhelmingly negative results of a new survey of almost 100 correctional officers at Allegheny County Jail.

Respondents to the survey, administered this spring by the community-based advocacy group Corrections Collective, almost universally feel that the jail administration does not understand, listen to, or respect them, that their training is inadequate, and the jail’s scheduling practices are dangerous and disruptive to their lives.

Ninety-eight correctional officers at the jail responded to the survey, which contained 12 close-ended questions and two open-ended questions.

More than 90% of respondents said that they “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with the statement “I feel valued and respected as a CO at the Allegheny County Jail.”

One hundred percent of respondents indicated that they “disagree” or “strongly disagree” that each shift is staffed with enough correctional officers.

Only 14% said they have had enough training to perform the work they are expected to do.

Almost 93% of all respondents said that jail administration’s practice of frequently forcing officers to work overtime to make up for understaffing is disruptive to their family, and almost 90% say it has negatively impacted their physical or mental health. One respondent to the survey wrote that officers can be forced to work overtime as many as five times per week.

Concerns about forced overtime and jail administration’s use of fear, intimidation, and micromanagement toward correctional officers dominated responses to the survey’s two open-ended questions.

“Officers say a punitive model of intimidation and a threat to losing one’s job is used often to achieve compliance,” reads the Corrections Collective’s analysis of the survey results. “Using fear and intimidation tactics is an archaic way of achieving motivation in the workplace, especially when officers are working such long hours. The fear tactics and micromanagement wreak havoc concerning the officers’ morale.”

Brian Englert, president of the correctional officers’ union at Allegheny County Jail, tells Pittsburgh City Paper that the results of the survey demonstrate that the responsibility for dysfunction at the jail rests solely with jail administration.

“I think it's important to understand that when the public comes here and expresses their frustration from what they're hearing and what they're seeing, [correctional officers] are not part of the problem,” Englert says. “The problem is that we have to function under their leadership. They tell us how to run the jail, and then we do it.”

John Kenstowicz of the Corrections Collective delivered the survey results to the oversight board at last month’s meeting. He tells City Paper that the survey is important because “it gave the officers an opportunity to be heard” as they are not represented on the oversight board.

Kenstowicz says officers’ responses to the open-ended questions are especially evocative and deserve attention from the oversight board and jail administration.

“You heard, word for word, what these officers are experiencing and what they’re saying. That, to me, was the most powerful point,” he says.

Jail spokesperson Jesse Geleynse declined to respond to the survey results.

In case you missed it:

Walk Out
Last month’s Jail Oversight Board meeting was forced to adjourn before conducting any business when Court of Common Pleas Judge Elliot Howsie walked out of the meeting in response to a public protest. He was followed closely by jail administration.

Locked Down
The jail oversaw an extended lockdown last month, reportedly triggered by multiple nonfatal drug overdoses among incarcerated individuals. Englert attributed the presence of illicit drugs in the facility to severe understaffing. A 2018 review conducted by the Prison Policy Initiative found that “almost all contraband introduced to any local jail comes through staff.” Members of the Jail Oversight Board and the public were not able to question jail officials about this recent lockdown due to last month’s meeting’s forced adjournment.

In an opinion piece for the Pitt News, Former CP intern India Krug criticized the Allegheny County Jail administration as well as the Jail Oversight Board for what she describes as a lack of action in response to frequent deaths at the jail and other local detention centers that receive funding from the county.

Who was in jail this month?

Average population of jail and alternative housing in June 2023: 1,710 individuals, up 1% from last month as well as 1% from June 2022.

Gender: Most people in the jail are men. In June 2023, women made up about 13% of the jail population. It’s unclear how many trans, nonbinary, and/or gender nonconforming people there are in the jail.

Race: 66% of people incarcerated at the jail this month were Black. Allegheny County as a whole is 13% Black.

Children: Twenty-six individuals under 18 are currently held in the jail, making up approximately 2% of its average daily population.

Source: Allegheny County Analytics

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referred to Corrections Collective as an affiliate of UPMC Western Psychiatric’s Center for Public Service Psychiatry. Although the group was initially convened by Western Psychiatric's CSPC, neither the hospital nor UPMC is a current sponsor. 

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