Outside of the Allegheny County Jail building

‘Dehumanizing and unlawful’: Allegheny County Jail sued over alleged mistreatment of inmates with psychiatric disabilities

On Tuesday, a law firm and two legal aid nonprofits jointly filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Allegheny County and three top officials of the Allegheny County Jail [ACJ], alleging “inadequate” treatment and “dehumanizing and unlawful” conditions for inmates with psychiatric disabilities. According to the lawsuit, the jail’s practices violate the Fourteenth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The lawsuit claims the jail does not provide meaningful treatment for individuals with mental health diagnoses and instead uses solitary confinement, irritant spray, a restraint chair and other forceful tactics. “The mental health care system at the Allegheny County Jail is rife with systemic deficiencies that deprive people with psychiatric disabilities of necessary care, and indeed, make their conditions worse,” the federal court complaint said. 

The suit was brought against the county and Warden Orlando Harper, Chief Deputy Warden of Healthcare Services Laura Williams and Mental Health Director Michael Barfield on behalf of five plaintiffs who are currently incarcerated and have psychiatric disabilities, according to the complaint. The plaintiffs are represented by Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project and the Abolitionist Law Center.

Outside of the Allegheny County Jail building

‘It almost broke me.’ How the pandemic is straining mental health at Allegheny County Jail.

No personal visitors, hardly any time for inmates outside of their cells and chronic vacancies in mental health and health staff raise concerns that the mental health of Allegheny County Jail [ACJ] inmates is deteriorating, according to inmates recently incarcerated there, family members of current inmates, advocates and current and former ACJ staff.  

Ketaki Desai stands indoors looking into the camera.

For more than a decade in Pittsburgh, we lived the U.S. immigration nightmare. The pandemic sealed our move to Canada.

My husband and I lived in the United States for 18 years and proudly called Pittsburgh home for most of them. We’d built our lives and careers there: I worked as an entrepreneur, consultant and, most recently, the director of strategy at UPMC Enterprises, developing cutting-edge healthcare solutions. My husband worked for the University of Pittsburgh as a software engineer, then at UPMC Enterprises as the senior director of product management. 

Yet despite our love of Pittsburgh and our contributions to the region, we couldn’t find a way to stay. After 12 years of unsuccessful attempts to become permanent U.S. residents — applying for green cards and visas, petitioning Congress to pass fairer immigration laws, even twice accepting invitations to the White House — the pandemic finally sealed our decision to leave. 

In March, the Department of State stopped processing visas altogether, a sign that it was time to move on. We finally did what we’d been trying to avoid for years: we left Pittsburgh and moved to Canada.