CP Jail Watch: Lynching tattoo, jail population up, medical director out | Social Justice | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

CP Jail Watch: Lynching tattoo, jail population up, medical director out

click to enlarge CP Jail Watch: Lynching tattoo, jail population up, medical director out
CP Photo: Lisa Cunningham
Allegheny County Jail

Solitary confinement count

Solitary confinement at Allegheny County Jail has been banned since Jan. 1, 2022, after a majority of voters opted to eliminate it during a countywide referendum. Since then, although jail administrators say they have been in compliance with the ban, incarcerated individuals, advocates, and some members of the Jail Oversight Board have raised doubts. Their concerns appear to be supported by two expert reports commissioned by the Abolitionist Law Center, a local public-interest law firm, in litigation against the jail.

The referendum defined solitary confinement as the confinement of any individual to their cell for more than 20 hours a day, lists exceptional circumstances in which temporary solitary confinement may be used, and requires the jail to document those exceptions in a monthly report to the Jail Oversight Board.

Although the referendum banned the use of solitary confinement as punishment, psychiatrist Terry Kupers, who identifies himself as an “expert on the psychiatric effects of prison conditions and correctional mental health issues,” reports that he spoke with people incarcerated at the jail who say they were placed in solitary confinement due to “misconducts” or in some cases because they asked for mental health care.

In addition to documenting allegations that the jail has continued to use solitary confinement in ways prohibited by the referendum, Kupers’s report calls into question jail administrators’ claims that the jail is providing four hours of out-of-cell time to most people held there.

Kupers reports that what jail officials refer to as “out-of-cell time” occurs in “unattractive ‘cages’ where prisoners can choose to spend four hours out-of-cell, and because of the design very few choose to do so.”

Brad Hansen, a retired prison warden, also writes in his report that Allegheny County Jail is not, in his view, complying with the referendum. Hansen writes in his report that “unfortunately, solitary is still a reality for many at ACJ … the measures taken by Allegheny County to avoid solitary do no such thing.”

Below are the data on solitary confinement from the jail’s February 2023 report to the oversight board. They document instances of individuals spending more than 20 hours a day in their cell that the jail argues fall under the referendum’s exceptions.

A spokesperson for the jail declined to comment on the matter, citing pending litigation. 

February 2023 at the Allegheny County Jail
—Pod or facility-wide lockdowns, where incarcerated individuals are confined in their cells for 20 hours or more, occurred on 18 days in February 2023.
—In addition to lockdowns, the jail reports placing 88 people in solitary confinement in February 2023.
—The youngest person placed in solitary confinement during this time was 17 and the oldest was 69.
Source: Segregated housing report

—The number of people held at the Allegheny County Jail is up 14 percent since Jan. 1, 2023.
Source: Jail population dashboard

Highlights from March’s Jail Oversight Board Meeting

Board members discussed two allegations documented in legal testimony against the jail that a correctional officer working at the jail has a tattoo depicting the lynching of a Black baby. During the March 2 meeting, board member Bethany Hallam called for an investigation, and Warden Orlando Harper said he had no knowledge of such a tattoo, but that even if it existed, it is not a legal reason to fire an employee. Elliot Howsie, a county judge and oversight board member, agreed.

Also during the meeting, board members asked jail administration to confirm rumors that the jail’s previous medical director, an employee of Allegheny Health Network, had been reassigned to a new position. Harper confirmed this, and said the personnel change did not warrant notifying the oversight board. The jail currently has an interim medical director, Dr. Bill Jonjulio. Harper says the jail has a plan regarding how to operate during the search for a new medical director but refused to speak about it. Neither AHN nor the jail has provided a reason for the personnel change.

Other Jail News from March 2023

In a collaboration with Black Pittsburgh and the Garrison Project, Pittsburgh City Paper examines recent litigation and complaints alleging abuse, misconduct, and dysfunction at the jail.

A joint investigation by Spotlight PA and the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism found that the process by which Pennsylvania courts determine if someone with a mental illness is “competent” to stand trial often ends up trapping them in jail for prolonged periods, where poor conditions exacerbate the symptoms of their illness. Journalists also found that the majority of people waiting for their competency reviews were accused of low-level offenses. Spotlight PA went on to assess the partial solutions to this problem currently employed by police, public defenders, and jails.

WESA reports that an outside contractor hired by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to conduct a “historical review” of deaths at the jail gave a mostly favorable report of conditions, reporting that “no significant trends or common factors that would show a particular weakness or gap in operations.”

In March, Allegheny County Council voted to repeal the requirement that employees at the jail must live in the county. Most county employees are required to become county residents within the first year of their employment if they aren’t already. Supporters of this change hope it will ease the jail’s chronic under-staffing.

Who was in jail this month?
Population of jail and alternative housing on March 31, 2023: 1,738 individuals. Jail population is up 14 percent from Jan. 1, 2023.
Gender: Most people in the jail are men. Women make up about 11% of the jail population. It’s unclear how many trans, nonbinary, and/or gender nonconforming people there are in the jail.
Race: 68% of people incarcerated at the jail this month were Black. Allegheny County as a whole is 13% Black.
Children: Twenty-one individuals under 18 are currently held in the jail, making up approximately 2% of its average daily population.\
Senior citizens: One hundred seventy-five individuals over the age of 65 are currently held in the jail, making up 10% of its average daily population.
Source: Allegheny County Analytics.

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