Allegheny County Jail to Cease Housing Pregnant Women in Isolation

Agreement Reached in Settlement of a Lawsuit

Brought by Women who Were Housed in Solitary While Pregnant

PITTSBURGH – Allegheny County has settled a lawsuit filed last December by five women who challenged the county jail’s practice of housing pregnant inmates in solitary confinement.

The women are represented by the Abolitionist Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and the law firm of Reed Smith LLP. Four of the plaintiffs spent time ranging from six to 22 days in solitary confinement while pregnant and incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail (ACJ).

“We are grateful that officials in Allegheny County have recognized how harmful it is to keep pregnant women in solitary confinement,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “It’s unfortunate that it took a federal lawsuit for them to recognize this, but we’re pleased the county has agreed to a progressive, comprehensive, and humane policy. People who are incarcerated have a right to basic healthcare needs and to be treated humanely.”

The plaintiffs were typically placed in isolation for minor, non-violent rules infractions, including possession of too many pairs of shoes in one case and possession of a library book in another. During their time in solitary, they stayed in their cells for 23 to 24 hours per day and were rarely given the opportunity to even shower. They were also denied access to proper nutrition for pregnancy throughout their incarceration.

“The women who brought this lawsuit exhibited tremendous courage under harsh and despairing conditions, and through their efforts they have secured important human rights protections for pregnant women at the Allegheny County Jail,” said Abolitionist Law Center Legal Director Bret Grote.

As part of the settlement, officials from Allegheny County have agreed to numerous new policies and accountability measures that are among the most comprehensive and progressive procedures for housing pregnant inmates in the United States. The settlement prohibits the jail from placing pregnant women in restrictive housing except in rare instances where the inmate poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm, and decisions to place pregnant women in restrictive housing must be reviewed by the deputy warden and cleared by a medical professional.

In addition, administrators at the jail will provide appropriate diets for pregnant inmates and will track the distribution of meals, and women who are lactating will be allowed to use a breast pump.

The county also agreed to specific enforcement measures. The federal district court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement’s terms for three years. ACJ will also provide a current list of all pregnant women at the jail to the plaintiffs’ lawyers on request and will provide copies of documents related to the placement of any pregnant women in restrictive housing to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“Allegheny County has taken an important step in joining the national trend that recognizes there are better alternatives to solitary confinement within our prisons and jails,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney for the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “These policy changes will provide a healthier and safer environment for pregnant women detained at ACJ.”

The case is Seitz v. Allegheny County, and the plaintiffs are represented by Sara Rose and Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center, Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and David Fawcett and Aleksandra Phillips of the law firm Reed Smith LLP.

More information about the case is available at www.aclupa.org/seitz.

Keep ALC in the Fight to End Mass Incarceration!

Abolitionist Law Center, our clients, and our supporters have made important strides in overturning laws aimed at censoring and silencing prisoners’ voices, in challenging decades-long solitary confinement, and in pushing for life-saving treatment for hepatitis C+ prisoners. Over the last few years, lawsuits filed by Abolitionist Law Center have:
  • Ended solitary confinement of pregnant women at the Allegheny County Jail
  • Won the first court order in the country forcing prison officials to provide new hepatitis C medications
  • Won release from decades-long solitary confinement for Russell Maroon Shoatz and Arthur Cetewayo Johnson
  • Overturned a statute that would have silenced prisoners and anyone who published the speech of prisoners
Your support makes it possible for us to win these fights. Please donate and together we can keep building the movement to abolish mass incarceration.

SUPPORTING THE MOVEMENT

Lauren, Shakaboona, Bret and Quinn
As a movement lawyering organization, our primary method for winning the abolition of mass incarceration is to amplify the voices of activists inside and outside the prison walls. We understand that social change is a political process and the most effective way to achieve deep and sustained improvements is through the organization and mobilization of communities. With this in mind, we have successfully fought to protect the rights of prisoners to engage in political speech and self-education, and we have successfully helped to push back on the overuse of solitary confinement (which is often used as retaliation for advocacy from within the prisons). We have also expanded our work to defend movement activists who are not incarcerated, such as Saundra Cole and George Ciccariello-Maher, against harassment from police and white supremacist individuals and hate groups.
Bret, Ghani, Sean, and Jamelia
With your support, we increased our efforts to ban Death By Incarceration (DBI), also known as life without parole, abolish long-term solitary confinement, and force prison administrators to provide curative treatment for prisoners with hepatitis C. We hired three new staff members  focused on these issues: Jamelia Morgan, Lauren Johnson and Quinn Cozzens (pictured above and right). We co-founded the western Pennsylvania chapter of the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI West),  and we increased collaboration with our friends at the Amistad Law Project.

ENDING SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Arthur Cetewayo Johnson and family
The Abolitionist Law Center’s work to abolish solitary confinement resulted in some important victories over the last year. At the beginning of this year Arthur Cetewayo Johnson walked out of his solitary confinement cell and into the general prison population following 36 years in solitary, after we won a preliminary injunction on his behalf (Johnson v. Wetzel). One of our lawsuits (Seitz v. Allegheny County) successfully stopped the Allegheny County Jail from putting pregnant women in solitary confinement. And we obtained the first circuit court holding in the country recognizing that solitary confinement of persons with serious mental illness states a claim under the Eighth Amendment (Palakovic v. Wetzel).
With the help of our new staff attorney, Jamelia Morgan, we are currently litigating three (soon to be four) cases challenging long-term solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s Death Row, which is being imposed on prisoners even though they have had their death sentences overturned. PA DOC contends that the mere possibility that these men may be re-sentenced to death after a new trial or sentencing hearing requires them to be held in solitary confinement. This is happening despite the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issuing a landmark decision earlier this year, which held that continued use of solitary confinement on Death Row of individuals who have obtained relief on their death sentence violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Williams v. Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, 848 F.3d 459 (3d Cir. 2017).

ABOLISHING DEATH BY INCARCERATION 

Charmaine and her mother Donna.
The Abolitionist Law Center is working actively to roll back race- and class-based mass incarceration through our ongoing decarceration efforts. As part of these effort, we’ve also been working to get people released from prison, including three clients who were 18 years old when the crimes they were convicted of occurred. All three of them were sentenced to Death By Incarceration (DBI), also known as life without parole, without any consideration given to mitigating circumstances (such as youth, intellectual disability, or lack of intent). Their youth raises the same issues of diminished culpability that the Supreme Court relied on in deciding Miller v. Alabama, which effectively ended DBI sentences for juveniles. State prosecutors and courts are trying to limit the holding to people who were under 18 years old, despite the fact that the same developmental science that the Supreme Court relied on in Miller shows that brain development continues well past the 18th birthday. Our cases seek to win the release Charmaine Pfender, Avis Lee, and Arthur Cetewayo Johnson, while establishing that the ruling in Miller v. Alabama applies to people who were over 18 years old when they committed or allegedly committed a crime.
In addition to working on the above cases, a report on DBI sentencing in Pennsylvania is being prepared by our new staff-member Quinn Cozzens. Research for this report is already being used to help support the work of movement activists pushing to abolish Death By Incarceration, and over the next few months we will be launching a program to assist the movement in lobbying for statutory changes to end all DBI sentences.

HEPATITIS C TREATMENT FOR PRISONERS

Mumia Abu-JamalAt the beginning of this year, we won an injunction forcing the PA DOC to provide treatment to Mumia Abu-Jamal using direct acting antiviral (DAA) medications to cure his hepatitis C infection. This was the first court order in the country requiring prison administrators to provide DAA medications to an incarcerated patient. Mumia announced that he was free of the hepatitis C virus at the end of May.
Late last year we started a new program to increase legal support for hepatitis C+ prisoners. Mumia’s case was an important initial victory, but we will be filing more cases before the end of the year seeking to force accountability on the PA DOC for refusing to provide the new curative treatments, and for the injuries and deaths caused by those failures.

Transforming this system and rolling back the mass incarceration state requires building mass popular movements. And people’s movements need movement lawyers. Please consider making a donation to our efforts today.