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 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: