An incarcerated person at the Allegheny County Jail has died on the same day an op-ed by Warden Orlando Harper was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette condemning the media for ignoring “jail success stories,” and less than a week after the Allegheny County Jail Communications’ Twitter account published a thread accusing the media of falsely reporting on deaths at the jail.
Another life stolen inside the walls of the death trap that is the Allegheny County Jail.— Bethany Hallam (@bethanyhallam) July 14, 2022
I don’t even have words anymore. This breaks my heart 💔 pic.twitter.com/4sBsX7r3hR
On July 13, Bethany Hallam, Allegheny County Councilor At-Large and Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board member, tweeted a screenshot of a message from Harper informing the board that an incarcerated person has died.
“I regret to inform the Jail Oversight Board that a male inmate died today at the Allegheny County Jail,” the email, which was also shared with Pittsburgh City Paper, reads. “A medical emergency was called for an unresponsive incarcerated individual at the ACJ. The individual was declared deceased by a medical provider at the ACJ. As with all incidents at the facility, the county police are on the scene conducting an investigation and an internal review will be conducted.”
Less than an hour after Hallam announced the death, the Post-Gazette published the op-ed from Harper.
“During my nearly 10 years as Warden of the Allegheny County Jail, I’ve noticed one constant: The only news that gets coverage at the jail is bad news,” Harper writes, adding that he’s “extremely frustrated when false narratives surround the jail.”
“Take, for instance, an ongoing conversation that the deaths at the county jail have exceeded the national average,” he writes. “They were even called ‘scandalously high’ in a recent editorial, but that is simply a lie.”
This op-ed follows a Twitter thread posted on July 8 by the Allegheny County Jail Communications’ account, which says, “There is a continued false narrative being put out by activists as well as the media that deaths at the Allegheny County Jail have exceeded the national average. It’s absolutely a lie.”
Wednesday’s death marks the fourth death at the county jail this year, and the 15th since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, according to the Pittsburgh Insititute for Nonprofit Journalism.
“We welcome transparency and outside oversight to ensure we are held accountable, but we expect that coverage of our operations and efforts to be fair, balanced and most importantly, truthful,” Harper writes in his op-ed. “I will continue to speak up when it’s not, and look forward to the day when our successes are the stories of the day.”
Some of the “bad news” Harper could be referring to include the following, which City Paper reported on in June:
• A local public interest firm filed 62 complaints against an Allegheny County Judge, which included more than 20 references to the jail, where he allegedly refers to ACJ serving “green” or “slimy” bologna or “cat food” in several complaints.
• Lawyers for an incarcerated trans man said their client is experiencing “several medical emergencies” for which he is not receiving adequate medical attention.
• A Wilkinsburg woman sued the Allegheny County Jail for improper medical care that she claims led to a painful, days-long miscarriage weeks after the baby died in her womb.
• Lawyers from two advocacy groups and a national law firm filed a motion in federal court seeking class-action relief for all incarcerated people at the Allegheny County Jail who require medical care. The motion describes the jail’s “failure to provide adequate mental health care and its discriminatory and brutal treatment of people with psychiatric disabilities.”