Pittsburgh's People of the Year 2023: Activism | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh's People of the Year 2023: Activism

Tanisha Long keeps her eyes on the jail and her heart in the work

click to enlarge Pittsburgh's People of the Year 2023: Activism
CP Photo: Mars Johnson
ALC community organizer Tanisha Long

Scrutiny of the Allegheny County Jail has been high in recent years, with a group of journalists, politicians, and activists — among them Abolitionist Law Center community organizer Tanisha Long — maintaining pressure on the county to improve conditions. Long has been at the center of an ongoing fight for people in the carceral system who face poor conditions, long waits for trials, and a lack of legal representation.

"We see a ton of people falling through the cracks," she says, "so we try to catch them."

Whether she's attending Jail Oversight Board meetings or helping incarcerated people prepare to return to normal life, all of Long's efforts are about putting faces, names, and stories to the statistics. Her commitment comes, partly, from firsthand experience — Long was briefly incarcerated when she was younger, and her mother remains under state supervision after a difficult life of mental illness and jail time. 

Long says her struggles navigating the system have helped her be a voice for "people who are crying out and trying to write, and trying to make calls and tell us what's going on" inside the jail.

With a new county executive — and a new warden — in place, Long says she plans to continue her work by advocating for easier access to books, an end to juvenile strip searches, a diversion of mentally ill people to care facilities, and the improvement of living conditions she says "made that place just unbearable beyond what jail already is." Other efforts include scrutinizing plans to reopen the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center and a bid to make policy inroads on homelessness.

Long says these efforts have motivated more people in the justice system to get in touch with her, a sign that her work is having a tangible impact on the people who need it most. "They're not afraid to reach out anymore. They know that we want to help," she says. "We've got a busy 2024 coming up."