Juliette Rihl reports on criminal justice, public safety and mental health for PublicSource. Her 2020 series on how court debt impacts low-income Allegheny County residents prompted the county to join a national reform initiative. She has also written about facial recognition use by local law enforcement, which led to legislation to regulate the technology. Before joining PublicSource, Juliette taught English in Taichung, Taiwan as a Fulbright scholar. She is also a graduate of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs and the University of Pittsburgh. She enjoys books, rock climbing and hanging with her cat, Sokka. Pronouns: she/her.
The absence of counseling and reliance on medication is a common occurrence in facilities like ACJ, where many incarcerated people would benefit from therapy, but problems like high population turnover, understaffing and lack of funding make delivering care complicated.
Editor’s note: This story was produced for Sunshine Week, an annual, nationwide celebration of government transparency and access to information taking place March 14-20. PublicSource frequently uses the Right-to-Know law, as it did in this story, and encounters varying degrees of transparency by Pennsylvania’s public agencies.
To better understand how incarcerated people are cared for, PublicSource sought all Allegheny County Jail policies related to mental health, suicide prevention, administration of medications and accommodations for people with disabilities through a public records request in September.
Of the six policies the county provided, five were almost entirely redacted with thick black lines, disclosing only the title and the policy’s first few sentences. The county justified the redactions by stating in an accompanying letter that the information “would be reasonably likely to result in a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm to or the personal security of an individual.”
Watch a video of PublicSource reporter Juliette Rihl explaining this storyPublicSource appealed the redactions to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records; the appeal was denied. But the five other most populated counties in the state provided similar policies, either in full or in part, providing insight into exactly the type of information withheld locally.
Lancaster and Delaware counties provided PublicSource their policies in full, while Bucks County provided one policy in full and four more policies with light or moderate redactions. Montgomery County provided its suicide prevention and pharmaceutical operations policies in full and two other policies with redactions.
Christopher West sleeps in two thermal shirts and two pairs of socks. He moved his cot to the center of his cell, on the floor and away from the walls where it’s coldest. Still, West said it’s hard to stay warm in the Allegheny County Jail. On Feb. 8, West asked a friend to post a message on his Instagram: “Somebody tell THEM to turn on the heat in the ACJ we freezing,” the post read.
Parts of the Allegheny County Jail are plagued with frigid temperatures, according to jail complaints, incarcerated people and their loved ones — a problem that has been raised to jail leadership and the jail board.
Laurie Sloan and her husband have always known they wanted to have a big family. The stay-at-home mom, who is now pregnant with her fourth child, didn’t let the pandemic stop their plans. “We were stuck at home and hanging out together and it was kind of fun watching all the kids be close in age and play together,” she said.
Sloan, who is now expecting a son in June, thought being pregnant during the pandemic would allow her to spend more time preparing for his arrival. “I thought by the time the baby was here, life would be back to normal,” she said. “That’s obviously not going to happen.”
For Sloan, pandemic pregnancy has been bittersweet.
Some members of the Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board are insisting on increased transparency and access to jail records. The issue, which was discussed at the board’s monthly meeting on Thursday, was prompted in part by PublicSource’s ongoing reporting on conditions at the jail.
Update (3/6/2021): At the March 4 Jail Oversight Board meeting, Warden Orlando Harper reported to the board about restraint chair use. It was a deviation from what he typically shares at these meetings in response to the board asking for more information on how the jail uses the device following the original PublicSource report below. He said the jail used the restraint chair 18 times in February. He promised that, at the April board meeting, he would provide the March count and include the number of times a person with a mental health condition is placed in the chair. Harper also agreed to show board members the restraint chair forms that are completed each time the chair is used. Jail leadership also provided the board the healthcare queues the board requested following a PublicSource investigation about medical treatment at the facility.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family, she had always felt like an outsider. The feeling reached a crisis level when, at the end of her freshman year, she was sexually assaulted. “I took all of this unprocessed trauma and completely pushed it down,” said Foley Martinez, who now helps others leave far-right hate groups. “I felt so worthless.
The Capitol riot marks another notable moment in the ongoing facial recognition debate.
The facial recognition app Clearview AI saw an increase in use the day after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, the New York Times reported. As police departments throughout the United States are helping the FBI identify rioters, some are reportedly using facial recognition technology.
The use of facial recognition last year to investigate suspected crimes related to Black Lives Matter protests raised privacy and First Amendment concerns from activists, advocates and some lawmakers. Studies show the technology, which attempts to match an uploaded image of a person to other images in a photo database, is less accurate at identifying people of color and women. Facial recognition has also resulted in at least three Black men being wrongfully arrested.