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.
Diona Brown was at Pittsburgh Municipal Court last month for another case when she learned she had two outstanding court fines for when she was at school, two decades ago. Both were for truancy, dating back to 1999 and 2000. She was 16 years old.
It was so long ago that Brown couldn’t even remember why she’d missed school. “Who knew once you grow up you have to take care of that stuff?” she said.
The outstanding amount totaled $404.50. For Brown, who’s been staying at home caring for her three children while they attend school virtually, the amount is insurmountable.
According to the county, the book policy was changed to protect against contraband and ensure the jail’s safety. But inmates and advocates worry that the new policy will further erode inmates’ mental health by limiting one of the only outlets available at the jail.
Pennsylvania has a new system in place to provide a more accessible vote-by-mail option for voters with visual disabilities. But according to the Pennsylvania Department of State [DOS], only 50 voters with disabilities had requested the use of OmniBallot as of Oct. 27.
On election night in 2016, voters across the country stayed up into the early morning hours awaiting the presidential election results. The race was a nail-biter, but at 2:30 a.m. — six and a half hours after polls in Pennsylvania closed — the Associated Press called the election for Donald Trump. The timing of election night on Nov. 3 will likely be very different. With more than 2.8 million Pennsylvanians requesting mail-in ballots as of Oct.
A new bill could regulate Allegheny County’s use of facial recognition and other surveillance technology. Legislation introduced to Allegheny County Council Tuesday would require county officials to obtain council’s approval before soliciting, acquiring or using facial recognition or other surveillance technologies, except in extreme circumstances. It would also require a public policy detailing how each technology can be used. “The public use of facial surveillance can chill the exercise of constitutionally protected free speech,” the bill states, also noting the technology is less accurate in identifying the faces of women and people of color. “...The benefits of using face surveillance, which are few and speculative, are greatly outweighed by its harms, which are substantial.”
Councilwoman at-large Bethany Hallam, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, told PublicSource: “We’re trying to bring transparency and accountability to one of the least transparent and accountable facets of law enforcement, and that’s surveillance.” The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Councilwoman Olivia Bennett whose district includes Downtown, North Side and Bellevue Borough.
Pittsburgh City Council voted Tuesday to regulate the use of facial recognition and predictive policing technologies by city entities, including the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police [PBP]. The legislation requires city council approval of such technologies before they are acquired or used, except in “an emergency situation.”
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.