ALC Releases Report on PA Office of the Victim Advocate, Highlighting Office’s Pro-Retribution History, Calls for New OVA Appointee to be Advocate for All Victims

February 15, 20201

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:

William Lukas, Abolitionist Law Center, wjlukas@alcenter.org

Dolly Prabhu, Abolitionist Law Center, dprabhu@alcenter.org

PITTSBURGH – The Abolitionist Law Center has published a report on Pennsylvania’s Office of the Victim Advocate. The report illuminates how the agency under former Commonwealth Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm has functioned as a pro-retribution lobbying arm funded by taxpayers, rather than a department that provides meaningful programming to survivors of violence and impacted communities. The report examines how throughout Storm’s seven-year tenure, the OVA advanced a reactionary anti-criminal justice reform agenda by advocating for harsh punitive legislation and increased criminalization, and opposing rehabilitation and decarceration.

According to the report, the OVA had a budget of $2.65 million in 2019 and provides next to nothing by way of programming or substantive direct services for crime victims. Since the OVA is only obligated to represent registered “direct victims” whose harm resulted in an arrest and criminal trial, the report acknowledges, “this legal definition likely excludes most survivors of violence in Pennsylvania” – including thousands of victims of unsolved rape cases and thousands of victims’ families of unsolved murders.

According to the report the OVA has 103,893 registered “direct victims,” yet data on race and ethnicity accounts for only 18.2% of these victims (18,887), while only 40% (41,816) have a known gender identity: 68% women and 32% men. The report compares data on the percent of registered victims versus the percent of victims of violent crime in 2018, illustrating how white residents are overrepresented among registered victims, while Black residents are vastly underrepresented, despite enduring higher rates of violent crime. In Allegheny County, 70.74% of registered victims are white and 27.31% are Black, yet the demographics of victims of violent crime are 49.62% white and 49.26% Black. 

Several OVA programs that are available to the registered direct victims are coded as “Restorative Justice”, which the report notes is “ultimately a cooptation that does not offer a pathway to repairing relationships” since the OVA has never offered nor advocated for alternatives to carceral punishment, but conversely has called for increased sentence time, increased surveillance, and increased fees and fines of incarcerated and paroled individuals. The report shares that in emails obtained in a Right to Know request, Storm even opposed the mere use of humanizing language of incarcerated community members, condemning the DOC’s decision to abandon terms like “offender” and “felon.”

The report highlights other contradictions between the OVA’s alleged mission of supporting victims versus how the Office conducts itself in practice. For instance, Storm’s OVA often advocated against sexual violence against children and rape culture at large, yet her Office remained consistently silent on the incredible prevelance sexual assaults and state violence that are endured by incarcerated youth in jails and prisons.

The report concludes by acknowledging that the data and legislative records left in the wake of Storm’s January resignation shows that the OVA only spoke for victims when there was an opportunity for punishment and that the agency failed to recognize victims of police brutality, carceral violence, and poverty – who are disproportionately Black – along with crime victims who advocate for healing justice over retribution. The report ends by remarking that the harm inflicted by the OVA can only begin to be undone when the Commonwealth appoints a Victim Advocate who “acknowledges the relationship between criminal justice reform and public safety, and acts as an advocate for all victims.”

To view the report, The Pennsylvania OVA: Criminalization, Punishment, And Retribution Under Jennifer Storm, click the download button or use the embedded PDF viewer below.

File name : OVA-REPORT-FINAL-02-05-21-1.pdf

ALC Court Watch celebrates end of first year, releases statement on abolishing cash bail.

January 6, 2021

We seek the abolition of cash bail in Allegheny County — and everywhere else in the US colonial project.

We believe cash bail contributes to a violent system of apartheid policing and punishment, and exacerbates economic precarity and poverty by governance thru debt.

We recognize cash bail as a feature of racial capitalism that benefits white people, the ruling class, and state power thru parasitic exploitation and dispossession of Black people and poor community members — not as a legitimate pretrial condition for securing one’s appearance in court.

We observe the wild inconsistencies of how cash bail is imposed among magistrates, revealing a crisis of legitimacy in their courts; since there is no standard, the financial and carceral fates of community members are merely entropic.

We reject the use of surveillance, algorithmic violence, and predictive policing, which rely on risk assessment “formulas” that are inherently anti-Black; these practices are often offered up as “alternatives” to cash bail thus co-opting initial abolitionist demands.

We situate our objective of abolishing cash bail within our larger protracted goals of ending state violence and transitioning from a punitive paradigm to one that centers healing, accountability, and community power.

– ALC Court Watch

January 6, 2021

***UPDATE: This position has been filled*** ALC is hiring a part-time Paralegal to join us in Pittsburgh!

PITTSBURGH PARALEGAL (Posted 01/05/2021)

Location: Pittsburgh

Reports to: Legal Director

Job Type: Part-time $25 per hour, 20 hours per week

Application Deadline: Rolling basis

Start Date: Position open until filled

PITTSBURGH PARALEGAL • Position Overview

The Abolitionist Law Center is hiring a part-time paralegal for our Pittsburgh office. As the movement to end racist state violence and abolish police and prisons has grown, so has our work and staff. We are seeking a part-time paralegal to assist our legal department in managing correspondence with incarcerated people, tracking human rights violations in jails and prisons, and assisting in litigation. The paralegal will work with incarcerated clients and their communities and advocates to challenge state violence in all its forms and contribute to building powerful movements for liberation.

Responsibilities

  • Manage, database, and respond to correspondence from incarcerated people.
  • Work with ALC attorneys on litigation-related tasks, including organizing and reviewing discovery, conducting research, and assisting with client communication.
  • Visits with clients and potential clients who are incarcerated.
  • Assist in investigations into conditions of confinement in jails and prisons in Pennsylvania.
  • Attending weekly staff meetings, providing feedback to leadership and staff to improve organizational effectiveness.
  • Commitment to an abolitionist politics and movement-lawyering approach to our work that seeks to replace punitive justice with healing justice, promotes decarceration and the elimination of the use of jails/prisons to deal with social problems, and centers the political agency and organizing activity of those individuals and communities most impacted by the criminal legal system.

Requirements

  • Exceptional organizational skills, capable of maintaining voluminous case and correspondence files.
  • Able to track, organize, and respond to a large amount of correspondence.
  • Excellent writing ability.
  • Legal research skills a plus.

Compensation

This position will be based in ALC’s Pittsburgh office. This is a part-time position of 20 hours per week with compensation of $25 per hour.

Reports to: Legal Director

Application Process

Please send your resume, three professional references, and a detailed cover letter explaining your interest in the position as a single PDF to info@abolitionistlawcenter.org.  Applicants are encouraged to apply as early as possible to receive priority consideration. This position is open until filled. Abolitionist Law Center is an equal opportunity employer. People of color, women, LGBTQI-GNC people, and formerly incarcerated people are strongly encouraged to apply.

ALC is hiring a full-time Staff Attorney to join us in Philadelphia!

PHILADELPHIA STAFF ATTORNEY (Posted 01/05/2021)

Location: Philadelphia

Reports to: Legal Director

Job Type: Full time, $65,000 salaried position, some evening and weekend hours required

Benefits: Health insurance benefit of up to $400/month, 35 days (280hrs) of paid time off annually

Application Deadline: Rolling basis

Start Date: Position open until filled; tentative start date of March 1, 2021

PHILADELPHIA STAFF ATTORNEY • Position Overview  

The Abolitionist Law Center is hiring a staff attorney for our Philadelphia office. As the movement to end racist state violence and abolish police and prisons has grown, so has our work and staff. We are seeking an abolitionist lawyer to assist in litigating against police violence, frame-up convictions, death by incarceration sentences, and inhumane and illegal jail and prison conditions. The Staff Attorney will work with incarcerated clients and their communities and advocates to challenge state violence in all its forms and contribute to building powerful movements for liberation.

Responsibilities

  • Litigate in state and federal courts.
  • Working with ALC attorneys and co-counsel and organizers to manage a significant caseload, including class action litigation, civil rights cases against police and carceral facilities, and criminal appeals.
  • Frequent visits with clients and potential clients who are incarcerated.
  • Lead investigations into conditions of confinement in Philadelphia jails, including policies and practices regarding medical and mental health care, solitary confinement, use of force, and disability justice.
  • Support litigation, public education, and organizing efforts against the racist system of policing in Philadelphia.
  • Develop and draft reports, position papers, memoranda, and other strategic communications on human and constitutional rights issues related to investigations and litigation ALC is involved in.
  • Attending weekly staff meetings, providing feedback to leadership and staff to improve organizational effectiveness.
  • Assist in soliciting donations for ALC during regular fundraising campaigns.
  • Commitment to an abolitionist politics and movement-lawyering approach to our work that seeks to replace punitive justice with healing justice, promotes decarceration and the elimination of the use of jails/prisons to deal with social problems, and centers the political agency and organizing activity of those individuals and communities most impacted by the criminal legal system.

Requirements

  • J.D. and active bar membership.
  • 3 years litigation experience.
  • Proficient writing ability, capable of clarity, efficiency, and analytical precision.
  • Excellent legal research skills.

Salary and Benefits 

This Staff Attorney position will be based in ALC’s Philadelphia office. This position will be based in ALC’s Philadelphia office. This is a full-time, salaried position. The salary for this position is $65,000 annually, with a health insurance benefit of up to $4,800 and 35 days (280hrs) of paid time off annually.

Reports to: Legal Director

Application Process 

Please send your resume, three professional references, and a cover letter explaining your  interest in the position to info@abolitionistlawcenter.orgApplications will be accepted  and reviewed on a rolling basis. This position is open until filled.  Abolitionist Law Center is an equal opportunity employer. People of color, women, LGBTQI-GNC people, and formerly incarcerated people are strongly  encouraged to apply

“I Can’t Breathe” – Parents of Tyrone Briggs Sue Department of Corrections for Death of their Son

December 22, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Bret Grote, Abolitionist Law Center, (412) 654-9070

Philadelphia – A federal lawsuit was filed today on behalf of Tyrone Briggs against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections after staff at State Correctional Institution Mahanoy killed him in November 2019 through a lethal combination of excessive oleoresin (OC) spray and refusal to provide necessary medical care. Tyrone, a native of Philadelphia who was 29 years old and had been incarcerated since he was a 15-year-old child was close to his parole eligibility date (his minimum sentence was 15 years) when his life was taken.  

Tyrone suffered an untreated asthma attack on November 11, 2019 after being saturated with multiple cans of OC spray, tragically and senselessly ending his life. His parents, Shaleda and Montrell Busbee, are bringing this lawsuit to expose the systemic failures that resulted in Tyrone’s death.

An investigation by legal counsel found that guards repeatedly and excessively unloaded entire cans of OC spray at Tyrone while responding to an incident in the yard, including the final burst of spray which was administered directly at Tyrone’s face while he was restrained on the ground.

As Tyrone slowly attempted to walk to medical, multiple incarcerated people heard him say repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.”

OC spray is an inflammatory agent that affects the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, causing a painful burning sensation of the lungs, shortness of breath, and temporary blindness. For people with respiratory disabilities such as asthma, like Tyrone, the consequences can be deadly.

“How does a mother begin to express the loss of her child,” asked Shaleda Busbee, Tyrone’s mother. “Where would I even begin in conveying all of the emotions that it brings? Tyrone was such a loving and devoted son to me in the short years that we shared together. Tyrone was taken from me for the first time at 15-years-old and treated like an adult while just being a child, he never received his right to experience freedom as an adult, and now he never will, which is the second time that I’ve lost my loving and devoted son, but for good this time.”

“We’re filing this lawsuit to expose the injustice Tyrone received and experienced, and we’re also doing it for all of the other families that have incarcerated loved ones,” Mrs. Busbee also expressed. “No parent should have to suffer grief and loss such as ours. And we would like to make a change to help ensure that everybody gets the chance to return home safely from incarceration.”

The lawsuit aims to uncover the names of the officers and medical staff responsible for Tyrone’s death, and to ensure the DOC takes measures to prevent these abuses from recurring. Alarmingly, reports have emerged from throughout the PADOC that since the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a dangerous and unnecessary law mandating that all state correctional officers carry OC spray, there has been a reported – and predictable – increase in the use of OC spray. 

“Tyrone didn’t deserve to die and his parents never should have known the pain of having their child killed by the government,” said Robert Saleem Holbrook, executive director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “Whether the killing is done by police or prison guards, the racialized system of state violence treats our community members as if they are disposable. We won’t tolerate this. Tyrone’s life mattered and we’re going to stand with the Busbees as they seek to make change in honor of their son.”

Correctional officers have a basic and common sense responsibility to protect the health and safety of the people in their care,” said Jonathan H. Feinberg, a partner with the Philadelphia law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP. “The fact that officers caused Tyrone Briggs’ death in the violent manner described in the complaint raises serious questions about systems of supervision and training in the Department of Corrections—questions that we intend to carefully investigate in this case.”

Shaleda Busbee is the Administrator of the Estate of Tyrone Briggs, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. The DOC, Superintendent DelBalso, Deputy Superintendent Stetler, and 11 John Does are the defendants. The case was filed in the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

###

Link to Filed Complaint

ALC Releases Report on Apartheid Policing in Pittsburgh, Calls for Defunding Police to pre-Peduto Levels

Select pages from the report, view or download the entire publication below.

December 15, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Dolly Prabhu, Abolitionist Law Center, dprabhu@alcenter.org

PITTSBURGH – The Abolitionist Law Center has published a report on policing in Pittsburgh, highlighting glaring racial disparities in traffic stops, frisks, warrantless search and seizures, arrests, and use of force by the City’s police force. 

The report notes that in 2019,  Black people made up only 23.2% of the Pittsburgh population, and yet they made up 43.6% of individuals involved in traffic stops, 71.4% of all frisks, 69% of individuals subject to warrantless search and seizures, and 63% of all arrests conducted by the Pittsburgh Police. When it comes to children, the disparities were even more vast: Black children accounted for 83% of all warrantless search and seizures of individuals ages 11-18 and 100% of all warrantless search and seizures of children ages 10 and under. 

Despite these troubling numbers, Mayor Bill Peduto has increased the Police Budget 60% since taking office in 2014, from $72 million to $115 million. It now enconpasses nearly one fifth of the City’s entire operating budget. Furthermore, the year-to-year rate of increase of the police budget went up from an average of 0.75% from 2000-2014 to 8.18% from 2015-2020 under Mayor Peduto, even though violent crime levels in Pittsburgh have been steadily decreasing since the early 1990s. 

The report also stated that the peacekeeping role of police was exaggerated, and noted that only 6% of all crimes reported to the Pittsburgh Police in 2019 were violent crimes, while the vast majority of crimes reported were minor infractions like disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, and vandalism. Even in response to violent crime, police had a very low clearance rate, especially when victims were Black. 

The report concludes by condemning the City’s continued adherence to unproductive and misleading reform measures to address police brutality against Black residents: “Trotting out these tired, ineffective solutions in place of defunding is not a noble step towards change, but a manipulative attempt to feign compliance with activists’ demands while continuing to support police,” says Dolly Prabhu, staff attorney at the Abolitionist Law Center.

Instead, the report calls for an immediate $40 million cut to the City’s police budget, which would return it to just a little over what it was when Bill Peduto took office in 2014. It further demands that these funds are redirected into necessary social services, including education, housing, and health care—measures that would reduce crime more effectively than continuing to increase police funding.

Prisoners’ Rights Advocates File Lawsuit Against Allegheny County Jail for Sergeant Brutalizing Women with Disabilities

 

December 2, 2020 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

CONTACT: 

Jaclyn Kurin, Abolitionist Law Center, (703)-850-8914, jkurin@alcenter.org 

Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, PA Institutional Law Project, (412) 434-6175 amorgan-kurtz@pailp.org 

PITTSBURGH – The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), and K&L Gates filed a lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of April Walker, LaVonna Dorsey, and Alexus Diggs, three formerly incarcerated women with disabilities, who claim they were brutally assaulted by Sergeant John Raible at the Allegheny County Jail. The complaint describes numerous assaults by Raible against people with disabilities involving the over use of pepper spray, tasers and placing people with disabilities in a restraint chair for hours without food, water, medicine, or breaks to relieve themselves. 

The Complaint claims that Raible repeatedly pepper sprayed Ms. Walker when she was pregnant and slammed her face into the concrete floor, resulting in her hospitalization. Ms. Dorsey’s claims arise from Raible pepper spraying her in the face, breasts, and buttocks while she was naked and then placing her in a restraint chair with purposely overtightened straps, severely injuring her shoulder. The Complaint also describes an incident where Raible shot multiple pepper pellets at Ms. Diggs because he suspected that she was using a pen to write grievances. 

Ms. Walker, Ms. Dorsey and Ms. Diggs are also suing Raible’s supervisors, Warden Orlando Harper, Chief Deputy David Zetwo, and Deputy Chief of Operations Jason Beasom for their failure to train and supervise staff at ACJ which led to the assaults. The lawsuit alleges that before the Plaintiffs were assaulted, Harper, Zetwo, and Beasom were aware of Raible’s violent history of assaulting incarcerated individuals for non-threatening conduct. 

“Raible’s actions are horrifying and have no place in our society,” stated Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, Managing Attorney for the PA Institutional Law Project. “More troubling, however, is the absolute disregard shown by his supervisors to a clear pattern of torture and discrimination against women with disabilities.” 

“Sergeant Raible’s pattern of assaulting women in ACJ is as disturbing as it is illegal,” said Jaclyn Kurin, staff attorney at the Abolitionist Law Center. “This lawless brutality only exists because Harper, Zetwo, and Beasom permit the systematic abuse of disabled individuals.” 

Despite knowing that Raible presented a significant risk of harm to individuals with disabilities, Harper, Zetwo, and Beasom repeatedly failed to discipline or terminate Raible. Rather, they condoned Raible’s abusive and unconstitutional conduct by permitting him to retain his rank as a sergeant and execute his supervisory duties. 

The lawsuit alleges that Harper, Zewto, and Beasom knew that ACJ officers routinely used excessive force on individuals with psychiatric disabilities. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections report on use-of-force in jails across the state shows that in 2019, ACJ staff resorted to brutal forms of physical force far more frequently than the other correctional facilities.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs are represented by Jaclyn Kurin and Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center; Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project; David Osipovich, Anna Shabalov, Jessica Moran, and Elizabeth Hoadley of K&L Gates LLP.

ALC Court Watch Releases First Court Watch Docket Report

December 1, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
William Lukas, Abolitionist Law Center • wjlukas@alcenter.org

PITTSBURGH – The ALC Court Watch, launched by the Abolitionist Law Center in January 2020 to keep courts accountable through data collection and public reporting, has published its first Court Watch Docket Report. Examining municipal court docket information from May 11, 2020 through June 8, 2020, the Report analyzes trends in arrests and bail decisions, highlighting the impact of police and judicial discretion. Notably, the vast racial disparities described in the report lay bare an undeniable system of racial apartheid.

The report states that while Black residents make up only 23.2% of the Pittsburgh population, they experienced 44% of all traffic stops, 71% of all frisks, 69% of all warrantless search and seizures, and 63% of all arrests conducted by the Pittsburgh Police in 2019. Additionally, ALC Court Watch found that Black men, who make up less than 7% of the county population, made up 44% of all misdemeanor defendants. It was also noted that the imposition of money bail tended to be concentrated among individuals from zip codes with a higher proportion of Black residents, with 9 such zip codes (out of the 127 represented by defendants in total) accounting for 37% of all defendants and 38% of the dollar value of monetary bail imposed during this period.

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The impact of judicial discretion was highlighted in the report as well, which found that just 3 out of 47 judges were responsible for 34% of all monetary bail impositions and 41% of all secured monetary bail impositions. The lack of standards and glaring inconsistencies present in judicial decisions were pointed to as evidence of the need for a total upheaval of current bail practices.

In sum, the data accumulated by the Court Watch Program shows that—as a result of racially disparate policing and bail decisions—Black residents are more likely to be arrested, charged, and have monetary bail imposed against them. This alone meets the legal definition of racial apartheid, a crime against humanity as defined by international human rights law standards. The report places blame for this state of affairs on police, prosecutors, judges, and elected officials, calling their failure to correct these glaring disparities demonstrative of an intentional policy of racial apartheid.

“Aggregating and interpreting how the visceral and exploitative everyday violences play out – largely against Black community members – makes the Apartheid practices of the county undeniably clear.” said Autumn Redcross, ALC Court Watch Director.

The report, which is the first in what is to be a series of regular publications, closes with three key demands: defunding the police, ending cash bail, and opening the courts. It demands a reduction of police funding to pre-Peduto levels, with the rest of the funding to be put towards education, housing, and healthcare. Additionally, it calls for an end to the bail-as-ransom system of cash bail that drains resources from this county’s most vulnerable communities. Finally, it calls for full remote access through live-streaming of all court proceedings for the sake of transparency, democracy, and accountability.

To learn more about ALC Court Watch visit alccourtwatch.org

***UPDATE: This position has been filled*** PHILLY – ALC IS HIRING A RACIAL JUSTICE ORGANIZER!

Join ALC’s team of movement lawyers and abolitionist community organizers! To learn more about our staff and board members, click here.

RACIAL JUSTICE ORGANIZER (Posted 11/18/20)

Location: Philadelphia

Reports to: Executive Director

Job Type: Full time, $48,000 salaried position, some evening and weekend hours required

Benefits: Health insurance benefit of up to $400/month, 35 days (280hrs) of paid time off annually

Application Deadline: Rolling basis; priority consideration December 1, 2020

Start Date: January 01, 2020


RACIAL JUSTICE ORGANIZER • Position Overview  

Abolitionist Law Center is a nonprofit organization that works to support and build the  movement to abolish mass incarceration through public interest litigation and community  organizing. As the movement to end racist state violence and abolish police and prisons  has grown, so has our work. We are seeking a Racial Justice Organizer (RJO) to facilitate  impacted communities in organizing for self-determination and against state violence. 

Working with directly impacted community members in Philadelphia, the RJO position  will contribute to Abolitionist Law Center’s ongoing campaigns to abolish solitary  confinement, to end death by incarceration sentences, and build community power to  confront institutions of state violence, particularly police and prisons. This includes  recruiting volunteers, facilitating meetings, engaging varied constituencies in discourse  on equity and social/racial justice, advocating with and on behalf of people of  color, and researching emerging needs in impacted communities. Along with contributing  to these campaigns, a key task for the RJO will be organizing the Philadelphia chapter of  the Jericho Movement to Free All Political Prisoners.  

A strong applicant will have a demonstrated commitment to racial, social and economic  equity, as well as a familiarity with the abolitionist movement and the Black Radical  Tradition. Identifying as an abolitionist is not a requirement of the job; however,  openness to abolitionist ideas and a commitment to studying the Black Radical Tradition are required.  

Responsibilities 

• Recruiting and training volunteers 

• Organizing meetings and events 

o Organizing event logistics (venue, attendance, transport, refreshments, etc) o Preparing and sharing agendas in advance of meetings  

o Facilitating or delegating the facilitation of meetings 

o Assuring meeting notes are taken and later shared with attendees o Preparing after-event reports to share with ALC’s organizing team • Additional responsibilities 

o Tracking work hours by project name 

o Attending regular ALC staff meetings 

o Participating in ALC fundraising 

Requirements 

• Experience with formerly incarcerated people and/or communities impacted by  criminalization; 

• A broad understanding of Philadelphia’s history of racist state violence and  resistance to that violence; 

• Significant experience organizing and facilitating volunteers; 

• Excellent public speaking skills and adequate writing ability; 

• Strong time management skills; and  

• Good recordkeeping  

Salary and Benefits 

The Racial Justice Organizer will be based in ALC’s Philadelphia office. This is a full time, salaried position with some evening and weekend hours required. This position has  a six-month introductory period. The salary for this position is $48,000 annually, with a  health insurance benefit of up to $400/month and 35 days (280hrs) of paid time off  annually. Start date is January 1, 2021. 

Reports to: Executive Director 

Application Process 

Please send your resume, two professional references, and a cover letter explaining your  interest in the position to info@abolitionistlawcenter.orgApplications will be accepted  and reviewed on a rolling basis, but candidates are encouraged to apply by December 1,  2020 to receive priority consideration. This position is open until filled.  Abolitionist Law Center is an equal opportunity employer. People of color, women,  indigenous people, LGBTQI-GNC people, and formerly incarcerated people are strongly  encouraged to apply.

Prisoners’ Rights Advocates File Class Action Lawsuit Against Allegheny County Over Failed Mental Health Care System at ACJ.

September 15, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
William Lukas, Abolitionist Law Center, wjlukas@alcenter.org
Rebecca Susman, PA Institutional Law Project, rsusman@pailp.org

PITTSBURGH – The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP filed a class action lawsuit today on behalf of people with psychiatric disabilities incarcerated in Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). The lawsuit alleges severe and systemic constitutional violations, as well as violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, for the jail’s failure to provide adequate mental health care and its discriminatory and brutal treatment of people with psychiatric disabilities.

The lawsuit asserts that although ACJ houses hundreds of people with psychiatric disabilities, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, ACJ is lacking a functioning mental health care system.   Every aspect of a comprehensive system for mental health care, from intake screening, to medication management, provision of counseling and therapy, suicide prevention, and training is either non-existent or wholly deficient at ACJ.  

“We recognize there are many employees at ACJ who try their best to provide care, yet face an impossible task due to inadequate systems, resources and direction,” said Keith Whitson, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.  “This lawsuit focuses primarily on the illegal systemic failures that make treatment nearly nonexistent, and the frequent imposition of punishment in place of treatment.”

The complaint contends that instead of ensuring proper staff training and adequate mental health staffing levels, or creating policies that provide adequate care, Warden Orlando Harper and Deputy Warden Laura Williams oversee a system that responds to people in mental health crisis with brutal levels of force and solitary confinement. People with psychiatric disabilities are tased, sprayed with OC, beaten, and placed in restraint chairs for several hours for minor infractions and for simply requesting mental health care. They are commonly placed in solitary confinement for weeks and months on end, often without having a hearing, in conditions universally acknowledged by correctional experts, courts and the United Nations as torture.

“An extensive investigation of the conditions at ACJ, including hundreds of interviews of those currently and formerly incarcerated at ACJ as well as former employees, and review of medical records, have reinforced what we already knew–the system of mental health care at ACJ is appallingly and unconstitutionally inadequate,” said Jaclyn Kurin, staff attorney for the Abolitionist Law Center.

As a result of the systemic lack of mental health care and discrimination against people with psychiatric disabilities, the jail has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. These dehumanizing conditions leave a lasting impact on communities outside of the jail, primarily Black communities. While Black people only make up 13.4% of the population of Allegheny County, they constitute a striking 61% of those held at ACJ. Most people invariably leave ACJ worse off than they enter it, making it more difficult to re-integrate into their communities and further fueling the cycles of incarceration, poverty, and trauma.

“Allegheny County is failing its most vulnerable communities by incarcerating people with psychiatric disabilities and then refusing to uphold its moral and constitutional obligation to provide treatment,” stated Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, Managing Attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project.  “Without a complete overhaul of the practices at ACJ, people will continue to suffer long lasting trauma and grievous harm.”

The class action lawsuit seeks to represent all people with psychiatric disabilities who are currently, or will in the future, be held at the Allegheny County Jail. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and names Laura Williams, Orlando Harper, Michael Barfield, and Allegheny County as defendants. The plaintiffs are represented by Bret Grote, Quinn Cozzens, Swain Uber, and Jacklyn Kurin of the Abolitionist Law Center; Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project; and Keith Whitson of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

A copy of the complaint is available here: