A consent order brings the Allegheny County Jail close to wide-reaching mental healthcare changes

Pittsburgh City Paper, 03/19/24: “A consent order submitted this morning brings the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) inches away from implementing sweeping mental healthcare policy changes, including introducing counseling for incarcerated people with mental disabilities for the first time and addressing short staffing issues.

The consent order is the agreed-upon settlement of the 2020 Howard v. Williams class action lawsuit, which alleged the jail continuously failed to provide adequate mental healthcare and discriminately and aggressively treated people with psychiatric disabilities.

The suit was filed on behalf of all current and future people incarcerated at the jail with psychiatric disabilities by law firms Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and the Abolitionist Law Center.

‘This settlement marks a crucial step forward in ensuring that people are provided with actual treatment and not facing life-threatening conditions while incarcerated at the ACJ,’ said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, the deputy director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, in a release announcing the order.

Slightly more than a rubber stamp affair, the order still needs to be approved by a court, Morgan-Kurtz told Pittsburgh City Paper in an interview. But based on Morgan-Kurtz’s past experiences in class actions, they’re “85%, 90% certain” it will go through, though they are not sure when.

In addition to introducing counseling, the order would require the jail to create private therapy spaces and hire six full-time licensed therapists within six months of implementing the settlement.

‘For the first time, the ACJ is now agreeing to provide actual therapeutic counseling to people with mental health diagnoses, which is huge in a population that has such a high percentage of people with mental health diagnoses,’ Morgan-Kurtz says.”

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