CONTACT: William Lukas, Director of Communications: firstname.lastname@example.org
PITTSBURGH – On Tuesday, August 24, 2021, the Abolitionist Law Center, a nonprofit prisoners’ rights law firm, sent a letter to the Allegheny County Solicitor stating it will sue the County, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and Warden Orlando Harper for entering into contracts with Corrections Special Application Unit (“CSAU”), headed by Joseph Garcia, to train Allegheny County Jail corrections officers unless that contract is cancelled. Another letter was sent to Lightfield Less Lethal Research, a company with which the County contracted to equip staff at the jail with dangerous new weapons, informing the company that ALC will sue them if their products injure anybody at ACJ. ALC claims the enforcement of these contracts violate the federal and Constitutional rights of people incarcerated at ACJ.
ACJ has historically had the most uses of force out of all 67 jails in Pennsylvania. Unconstitutional force is routinely meted out on 64% of the incarcerated population who suffer from a serious mental illness, which has resulted in several individual lawsuits and a class action case pending against ACJ and its officers for using excessive force. The contracts were entered into for the express purpose of responding to the will of the County voters, who in May, passed a referendum to ban the use of specific weapons at the jail and deter uses of force. ACJ and Warden Harper responded by buying new weapons and contracting with a company renowned for its brutality.
ALC’s letters says that “Garcia’s trainings, taught by CSAU, and other training companies he has overseen or directed, violate correctional standards and federal laws, are the subject of civil litigation and criminal inquiries, and have resulted in serious injuries and the death of incarcerated people.” Garcia’s training regimen “prefers and encourages the use of force over de-escalation and harm avoidance techniques.”
ALC also sent a letter to the legal counsel of Lightfield, notifying them of their liability “for selling/furnishing weapons and ammunition to ACJ for use by corrections officers, who are, given the historical record, clearly expected to use them in a negligent, reckless, and perhaps criminal manner on people incarcerated at the jail.” ALC states that “Lightfield appears to be readily aware of Garcia and CSAU’s training tactics, which have resulted in multiple lawsuits and criminal inquiries but your client nevertheless relies on the militaristic training program because it uses Lightfield’s weapons and munitions.”
Copies of the letters are available for download below:
Jaclyn Kurin, Abolitionist Law Center, (703)-850-8914, email@example.com
Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, PA Institutional Law Project, (412) 434-6175 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald
436 Grant St #101
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Director Debra Bogen, MD
542 Fourth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Warden Orlando Harper
950 Second Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Dear County Executive Fitzgerald, Director Bogen, and Warden Harper:
As you are all aware, there have now been cumulatively 28 positive results for COVID-19 amongst those incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). An additional 5 staff members have also tested positive.
Limiting further spread of COVID-19 within the jail is paramount, but without taking stock of the current situation, other measures will prove to be at best inadequate to curb the outbreak. That is why we, the undersigned, are calling for an immediate implementation of a universal testing policy for the ACJ and alternative housing facilities, to encompass both incarcerated persons and staff.
Social distancing is impossible in correctional facilities, where individuals are confined to their cells, which they often share, and frequently recreate, shower, and take meals in communal settings. According to a recent study , closed facilities are more vulnerable to “secondary transmission of COVID-19 and promote superspreading events”. Robust and extensive testing is critical to any comprehensive plan to address the outbreak, limit its transmission, and mitigate its most harmful effects.
Twenty of the 28 positive cases amongst incarcerated persons were announced in the past 10 days. Perhaps more worryingly, the current positive-to-overall-tests ratio is 51%—the recommended benchmark for such a ratio is 10% . Such a high ratio hints there are likely positive cases that remain untested, a worrying indication we will see an explosion of COVID-19 infections in the coming weeks.
We saw a similar explosion in cases in the Allegheny County Treatment Alternative, an alternative housing facility in the county, where 65% of the residents recently tested positive for COVID-19 (11 of 17, overall). According to information provided by the County, ACTA was following “guidance provided by the Allegheny County Health Department and the CDC as it relates to COVID-19, including educating employees and residents on the virus, stressing personal hygiene and regular hand washing, maintaining facility cleanliness, social/physical distancing, visitor restrictions and the availability of PPE.” The guidance and safeguards proved inadequate at ACTA and without a proper universal testing policy and implementation, it will prove similarly inadequate at ACJ.
To date, 1.7% of the jail’s population has tested positive for COVID-19, yet, only 3.3% of the jail’s population has been tested. The County should immediately implement a policy of universal testing, and conduct tests of every individual incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail and of every staff member who works at the facility.
Many other correctional facilities throughout the country have taken great strides to expand testing, with several realizing universal testing within their facilities , and greatly increasing their ability to combat the virus through doing so. Just across the state, Montgomery County Correctional facility recently tested every individual  held therein (938 in total). They discovered the contagion was 30 times more widespread than initial testing had shown, and a large majority of those testing positive were asymptomatic. Unfortunately, a similar dynamic is likely to present in Allegheny County, given the 51% rate of positive results.
Yet, Allegheny County is home to multiple world-class hospitals and medical research centers. One of them—UPMC—recently announced it would be instituting universal testing policies  for both its patients and employees, including those who display no symptoms. As tests have become more readily available, testing policies have become less restrictive and more expansive to meet the great need. Exemplifying this development, a testing site recently opened in North Philadelphia, which will provide universally-accessible testing : “patients don’t need [to] be presenting symptoms, health insurance isn’t needed, and a doctor’s referral isn’t required.” Such progress seems to be manifesting here as well, as County Spokesperson Amie Downs recently relayed, “the [Jail’s] ability to test [has] expanded, [and] results are turned around more quickly.” 
As recently as April 29, 2020, Allegheny County Director of Health, Dr. Debra Bogen, stated that, “Both testing and our capacity to test have also increased in our County…We estimate that we now have the capacity in our own County to do at least 2,000 tests per day  …but we expect that this will also increase.” She affirmed that, with regards to testing, “There is availability and capacity in our community, as needed.”
Funding cannot and must not be a limiting factor. Under federal guidance for the use of the CARES Act, received funds can be used for “costs of providing COVID-19 testing, including serological testing” as well as “COVID-19-related expenses of maintaining state prisons and county jails, including as relates to sanitation and improvement of social distancing measures, to enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions.” Furthermore, Allegheny County has had budgetary surpluses over the past several years that would more than account for any costs associated with universal testing.
We, the undersigned, call on Allegheny County, the Health Department, and the jail’s administration to immediately implement a policy of universal testing at ACJ and alternative housing facilities, to protect both those who are detained and those work inside, as well as the greater community more broadly.
-Abolitionist Law Center
-ACLU of Pennsylvania
-Autonomous Student Coalition
-Bukit Bail Fund
-Casa San Jose
-Green Party of Allegheny County
-Human Rights Coalition Fed-Up!
-Let’s Get Free: The Women & Trans Prisoner Defense Committee
-National Lawyers Guild – Pittsburgh Chapter
-The Nightshade Collective
-Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates
-Pittsburgh Feminists for Intersectionality
-Pittsburghers for Public Transit
-Prisoner Legal Support Project of University of Pittsburgh School of Law
-Take Action Mon Valley (TAMV)
-Thomas Merton Center
-Three Rivers Free Clinic for the People
-Volunteers with the Allegheny Chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society
-West End P.O.W.E.R.
-Words Without Walls
-Chelsa Wagner – Allegheny County Controller
-Bethany Hallam – Allegheny County Council, At-Large
-Olivia Bennett – Allegheny County Council, District 13
-Garret Wassermann, Candidate for State Rep, 45th District
-Darwin Leuba, O’Hara Township Auditor
-Anna Azizzy Rosati
-Jay Ting Walker
-Richard S. Matesic, Attorney at Law
-Fawn Walker Montgomery
-Lee Markovitz, Attorney at Law
-Stephen Stallings, Esq.
-Michael J. Healey
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has created an international public health crisis. It has now been classified as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization and declared a national emergency by the United States. In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf ordered all K-12 schools to close and prohibited all public gatherings of over 250 people, and most major universities have switched to online learning for the remainder of the school year. Both City of Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald have declared a state of emergency in their respective regions. The nationwide attempt to “flatten the curve” — to slow the infection rate so as not to overwhelm our healthcare system — has led to the implementation of many measures that prevent large groups of people from congregating in close quarters.
However, these measures do not take into account one of the most vulnerable, highly concentrated populations: the county’s jail population, composed of over 2300 individuals packed into tight quarters and often lacking basic hygiene items. Additionally, prevalence of health conditions that increase vulnerability to COVID-19 — including tuberculosis, asthma, HIV, hypertension, diabetes, heart conditions — are all significantly higher among the jail and prison populations. To make matters worse, the jail’s medical capacity isn’t nearly high enough to deal with a potential outbreak within the jail; it is woefully understaffed to deal with the medical needs of incarcerated individuals as is. Many individuals will likely need to be transported to and from the hospital, further increasing the likelihood of exposure and transmission.
Because 81% of individuals at the Allegheny County Jail have not been convicted of a crime, and the rest are serving relatively short sentences, there is a high turnover rate at the jail. Over 100 individuals pass through intake on a daily basis. The result is that many individuals will enter an environment where the risk of contracting COVID-19 is relatively high, and simultaneously many individuals will also be leaving and potentially spreading the illness to others. This high turnover also increases the likelihood that staff at the jail will contract and spread the disease. All of these factors converge to create the perfect storm for a potential COVID-19 outbreak to spread quickly amongst the incarcerated population. Emergency efforts to decarcerate the jail are more crucial now than ever. Doing so will decrease the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading amongst the ACJ population and staff and subsequently throughout the region. It will also make it more manageable for the jail to provide adequate medical care to those affected.
Other counties have already taken steps towards emergency decarceration, and Allegheny County ought to follow their lead to slow the spread of the disease in the region. San Francisco County’s Public Defender has announced that his office’s attorneys will be seeking the immediate release of pre-trial clients who have a high susceptibility to the virus, and the County’s District Attorney has instructed his office’s prosecutors to not oppose these motions for individuals not deemed a threat to public safety and to strongly consider sentences of time served in plea deals. Additionally, the judges, the Public Defender, the District Attorney, and the Sheriff of Cuyahoga County in Ohio, where Cleveland is located, have agreed to hold mass plea and bond reduction hearings in an effort to release as many people as possible from the jail and reduce the impact of potential outbreak of coronavirus among this population. Many other regions are calling for or implementing similar measures. Other countries are taking strong preventive action as well. Iran plans to release 70,000 people from its prisons. Counties in the United States, the country with the highest rate of incarceration in the world, ought to be taking similarly urgent measures. The potential of COVID-19 to spread among the incarcerated population was seen in China, where the incarceration rate is six times lower than in the United States. Over 500 cases of coronavirus were reported from just four prisons in China, two of which were in the region at the epicenter of the outbreak. It is imperative that public officials act now to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the region to prevent a similar outcome.
We are calling on the county executive, county council, and all of county government and administration; judges, prosecutors, and public defenders; police, parole and probation officers to all unite on emergency decarceration initiatives to halt the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Allegheny County.
The Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania should:
Immediately lift/postpone imposition of detainers of every individual held on alleged probation violations based on new charges or for technical violations;
Immediately modify bond of those held pretrial to nonmonetary and/or “release on their own recognizance” (‘ROR’);
Cease parole and probation revocation proceedings and terminate long tails;
Release all individuals with less than 6 months left in their sentence;
Release all individuals incarcerated for misdemeanors, whether pretrial or serving a sentence;
Release all individuals incarcerated for drug possession, sex work, and other nonviolent offenses;
Release all elderly individuals (over 50) and those at high risk of vulnerability, including but not limited those with respiratory conditions, heart conditions, diabetes, cancer, or other autoimmune diseases;
Release all pregnant individuals;
Transfer all non-releasable individuals to less restrictive forms of custody, including electronic monitoring and house arrest, where individuals can self-quarantine as needed.
Review individuals on probation or otherwise confined to halfway houses and release those individuals to home confinement automatically;
Terminate in-person reporting for those on pre- or post-trial supervision indefinitely.
The District Attorney of Allegheny County should:
Postpone the convening of grand juries;
Affirmatively support and not oppose the above-mentioned motions and petitions for relief;
Withdraw and drop all pending charges for drug possession, sex work, and other nonviolent offenses.
Law enforcement agencies throughout Allegheny County should:
Recall all pending warrants (that have not been served/executed);
Delay dates of voluntary surrender for incarceration sentences as requested by defense;
Immediately cease arresting individuals for all offenses not directly implicating public safety or an individual’s physical well-being;
Immediately cease arrests on warrants for probation violations — technical and otherwise;
Avoid new bookings into the jail at all costs, limiting incarceration for only the most immediate and severe instances of harm reduction.
Given the similarly dangerous conditions in immigrant detention centers and those jails and prisons that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), we demand that Allegheny County Jail and county criminal justice officials NOT facilitate the detention of undocumented immigrants or the transfer of them to ICE custody.
County government and the jail administration should immediately:
Issue an emergency order making phone calls free for individuals detained at ACJ;
Ensure all incarcerated people have unlimited and free access to: soap, hand sanitizer, hygiene products, showers and laundry service, NOT monetized through commissary;
Provide free access to books and other reading and writing materials to all individuals incarcerated at the jail;
Provide additional commissary items at-, below-, or no-cost to all individuals, to boost morale during the trying times ahead;
Facilitate the use of video visitation, including confidential video visitations for attorney visits.
We call on our colleagues both in the Office of the Public Defender and in the private criminal defense bar to begin to file motions and petitions, in a pro bono capacity, for all individuals held in Allegheny County Jail under a probation detainer, unaffordable or unjustifiably restrictive bond, and serving long probation or parole terms.
We are demanding that all governmental agencies collaborate on this initiative in order to protect public health. Limiting the spread of COVID-19 — and its mortality rate — requires that we free as many of our neighbors as possible, as they are part of our families and communities. Protecting them and our greater community from avoidable harm go hand in hand, and this must be our shared imperative.
We are calling on other organizations in Allegheny County to endorse and circulate this statement and help shape the course of the response to COVID-19 in our community.
To sign on to the statement, email email@example.com with the name of your organization or fill out via our GoogleForm.
Endorsing Individuals and Organizations:
Abolitionist Law Center
Allegheny County Elders Council
Alliance for Police Accountability
ANSWER Coalition – Pittsburgh Branch
Bargaining Team 1199 NW Neighborcare Health
Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh
Bethany Hallam, Allegheny County Council
Black Unicorn Library and Archive Project
Brilliantly Blessed Community Health and Wellness
Bukit Bail Fund
CAIR - Pittsburgh
Casa San Jose
Chelsa Wagner, Allegheny County Controller, Member of Jail Oversight Board
Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration – West
Community Gone Rogue
Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal (EMAJ)
Fossil Free Pitt Organizing Committee
Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) Pittsburgh
Green Party of Allegheny County
Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up!
Jerry Dickinson for Congress
Jews Organizing for Liberation and Transformation (JOLT)
Let’s Get Free: Women & Trans Prisoner Defense Committee
Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Theological Seminary and EMAJ
National Lawyers Guild – Pittsburgh Chapter
New Evangelistic Ministries
Olivia Bennett, Allegheny County Council
Party for Socialism and Liberation, Pittsburgh Branch
Pennsylvania Prison Society - Allegheny County
Peter Odell Campbell, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh
Pitt Legal Income Sharing Foundation (PLISF)
Pitt Prison Outreach
Pittsburghers for Public Transit
Put People First! PA
Radical Youth Collective
Ratzon : Center for Healing and Resistance
Rep. Sara Innamorato, 21st Legislative District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Rep. Summer Lee, 34th Legislative District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
The ALC and co-counsel are representing Kimberly Andrews, a 20-year-old woman awaiting disposition on misdemeanor cases who has been in solitary confinement off and on since February of 2019, despite having known mental health issues. While at the ACJ, Ms. Andrews has tried to self-harm at least three times due to the decompensation associated with the placement in solitary confinement and harsh prison conditions within the restrictive housing unit. Ms. Andrews suffers from known mental health disorders including bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and oppositional defiance disorder. Instead of receiving access to treatment and waiting for the adjudications of her case, Ms. Andrews has undergone repeated dehumanizing encounters with abusive ACJ staff.
For instance, on one occasion Ms. Andrews spent at least 8 consecutive hours in the restraint chair, strapped in so tight that it caused bruising around her wrists and shoulder areas. She was again deprived food, water, bathroom breaks, or any ability to move her limbs. Staff returned at one point to loosen the strap on her right wrist, as it was cutting into her flesh. Ms. Andrews asked for her inhaler, but her request was denied; no other medical checks were conducted.
The treatment of Ms. Andrews highlights the inability of the ACJ to create policies and procedures to ensure the safety and security of those incarcerated with medically diagnosed disorders. Ms. Andrews has been able to successfully interact in general population and was able to have a job when briefly removed from solitary confinement. Despite previous attempts to resolve this situation, Ms. Andrews remains in solitary confinement where she continues to struggle to acclimate based on her health history and continues to self-harm as a result.
She has been kept in solitary confinement for over 70 days by Defendants at the jail, although she has not been either charged with or convicted of any violent conduct by officials at the jail. She has a history of mental illness, which is greatly exacerbated by her placement and retention in isolation. She has attempted suicide three times since being placed in solitary confinement.
The petition is asking the court to grant Ms. Andrews as temporary restraining order which would prevent her from being placed in solitary confinement as well as prevent specific ACJ staff from contacting her due to their denial of medical treatment and triggering conduct. The ACJ spent more than $200,000 on bedding, replacing sheets with anti-suicide blankets due to the number of suicide and suicide attempts in the facility.
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.
PITTSBURGH (December 19) – The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), and Reed Smith LLP joined forces today in filing claims in federal court challenging the inhumane way officials treat pregnant women held at the Allegheny County Jail. The lawsuit alleges that jail officials routinely place pregnant women in solitary confinement for extended periods of time without justification, knowing full well that this practice can harm the health of the women and their pregnancies.
The lawsuit also seeks to end other restrictions and conditions placed on these women that are dangerous and extremely shortsighted. Pregnant inmates are regularly deprived of nutritional food; needed medications; lack of heat; and even the ability to shower or exercise.
“The conditions of solitary confinement and inadequate nutrition faced by pregnant women at ACJ are causing severe psychological anguish, constant hunger, and putting them and their pregnancies at risk of permanent harm,” said Bret Grote, legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “The Constitution does not permit this.”
Four of the five named plaintiffs in the lawsuit have spent time ranging from six to 22 days in solitary confinement while pregnant. Elizabeth Seitz, the lead plaintiff in the case, was placed in solitary confinement for ten days in November when she was seven months pregnant. She spent 24 hours per day in her cell and was permitted to leave her cell to shower only twice in ten days. Ms. Seitz had previously spent 21 days in solitary confinement in October.
“Despite numerous requests for help, ACJ has ignored its duty to safeguard the pregnant women in its care,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “This blatant disregard for correctional standards cannot be tolerated.”
Due to the serious risk of mental and physical harm, the U.S. Department of Justice opposes the use of solitary confinement for pregnant women except in very rare situations. Yet Allegheny County regularly places pregnant women in solitary confinement for minor, non-violent rule violations. For example, one of the plaintiffs, Ms. Hendricks, was placed in solitary confinement for nine days for violating rules by having a library book in her possession.
“It is widely recognized that placing pregnant women in solitary confinement is extremely dangerous – for both mother and child,” said David Fawcett, an attorney at Reed Smith who is representing the plaintiffs pro bono. “The routine and thoughtless use of this practice is a real black mark on our county and must end now.”
Many other groups, like the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, have documented the unhealthy effects of solitary confinement for pregnant women. According to the NCCHC, “[i]nternational standards established by the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders state that pregnant women should never be placed in solitary confinement as they are especially susceptible to its harmful psychological effects.”
“The use of solitary confinement to discipline pregnant women for any offense, much less a minor, non-violent offense, is contrary to both national and international standards,” said Reggie Shuford, ACLU-PA executive director. “Pregnant women in Allegheny County should not be subject to this cruel and inhumane practice.”
The case is Seitz v. Allegheny County, and the plaintiffs are represented by Sara Rose of the ACLU-PA, Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center, Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and David Fawcett of the law firm Reed Smith LLP.
October 12, 2016: A lawsuit filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania federal court today describes the harrowing story of plaintiff Christopher Wallace, who was twice hospitalized because medical staff employed by Corizon at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) failed to provide him with medically prescribed tube feedings, causing his starvation and an eventual heart attack that nearly ended his life. Mr. Wallace has sued medical staff who were in charge of his care at ACJ, as well as Warden Harper, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and Corizon, each of which turned a blind eye to policies and practices that they knew were leading to the systematic failure to provide medical care to inmates in violation of the United States Constitution.
As of 2014 Allegheny County had been on notice that their private health care provider, Corizon, was not providing adequate care to the prisoners at the Allegheny County Jail. Rather than intervene, the County allowed Corizon to continue providing services at the Allegheny County Jail until their contract with the County expired. Corizon repeatedly engaged in conduct designed to save the County money at the expense of the health, wellbeing, and constitutional rights of inmates.
Plaintiff Christopher Wallace was an unfortunate victim of Corizon’s for-profit healthcare scheme. Mr. Wallace was emaciated when he entered the care of Allegheny County. The County immediately recognized that he was in need of serious care as this 6’4” man weighed a mere 77 pounds upon entry to the County Jail. After a short stay at UPMC Mercy, Mr. Wallace was returned to the care of the County.
Despite their assurances that they could care for Mr. Wallace, the County and their private contractor, Corizon, allowed him to starve. Mr. Wallace was not provided with the most basic form of life sustaining care, food and water.
On two separate occasions Mr. Wallace was forced to return to UPMC because the individuals in charge of his well-being either were not willing, or did not have the resources to provide him food and water via medically prescribed tube feedings.
The records that exist show that Mr. Wallace was never once provided his prescribed five daily feedings over a period of nearly 30 days. According to the records provided by Corizon, some days Mr. Wallace was not fed at all.
The cruel and outrageous conduct of the County and Corizon resulted in a 28-year-old man having a heart attack and nearly starving to death. If it wasn’t for the compassion of the staff at UPMC, Mr. Wallace likely would have died.
Mr. Wallace is represented by the Abolitionist Law Center and Louis J. Kroeck of the firm Anstandig & McDyer.