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.  

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Behavioral crisis responses and police are focus of new, unannounced Allegheny County panel

As incidents both local and national continue to raise questions about policing and mental health, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services [DHS] has quietly convened a panel that appears to be reviewing the public safety and social services response to behavioral health crises. The 28-member Allegheny County Crisis Response Stakeholder Group held its first full meeting, virtually, on Friday. The meeting included remarks by DHS staff including Director Marc Cherna, plus county Emergency Services Chief Matt Brown, Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert, and representatives of The Pittsburgh Foundation* and the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Its formation does not appear to have been heralded by any public announcement. It comes as the city sees near-daily protests demanding changes in policing, sometimes including calls to “defund” police, which some describe as the shift of law enforcement resources to human services or community building.

(Photo via iStock)

Ten ways employers can support working parents during the pandemic

Do you often find yourself hiding in the bathroom while on the phone? Are small, uninvited guests constantly crashing your Zoom calls? 

If so, there’s a good chance you’re a working parent. 

For many working parents, whether they’re working remotely or outside of the home, the pandemic has made juggling job and family duties even tougher. 

“We jokingly say that we’re playing hot potato,” Ashley Zahorchak said of caring for her 7-month-old baby while she and her husband work from home. Zahorchak serves as the director of youth services and STEM education at YWCA Greater Pittsburgh. “Whoever is not on a call or on a meeting, we’re juggling parenting duties like that.”

It’s been over two months since the COVID-19 shutdown disrupted the work-life balance, and daycare centers in the state are now allowed to reopen. Yet some parents are still facing many unprecedented challenges, said Heather Hopson, creator of Single Mom Defined, an art project and blog that celebrates Black motherhood.

Jeffrey Bolden stands looking at the camera with his back facing a shelf of books at the Lawrenceville Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Mental Warfare: What I recognized in the eyes of Nipsey Hussle’s alleged killer

Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom was the man who taught me that when you have a dream or mission, the worst enemy you can have is idle time. That was 2009. Ever since then, I found myself listening to Nipsey Hussle every day. His messages of hope carried me through dark times. He was the voice that inspired for nearly a decade. Not just me, but millions. So when news broke that he was killed in his clothing store in March in Crenshaw, Los Angeles, I was not the only person who cried and mourned for the late great.

‘I’m just me.’ A non-binary second grader in Allegheny County shares her experiences with identity and acceptance.

R, a second grader at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in the Bethel Park School District, is like her classmates in many ways. She loves cheetahs, jumping in big piles of leaves and watching the Lego Avengers save the world from bad guys. Science is her favorite class, especially learning about weather, as she hopes to become a meteorologist one day. 

R, whose first initial is used to protect her privacy, also identifies as non-binary. “I'm not a girl, not a boy,” R said. “I’m just me.”

GLAAD, a national nonprofit that promotes LGBTQ acceptance in media, defines non-binary as a term used by individuals “who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman.” Non-binary is different from transgender, which GLAAD defines as people “whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.”

Because most research on population does not include non-binary as a gender category, it is hard to say how many Americans overall identify as non-binary.

young person drawing

Are Allegheny County schools adequately supporting the mental health of their LGBTQ students?

A few dozen students sat at long cafeteria tables, each with a blank paper figure in front of them. They would spend the next hour decorating the figures in a way that represents their identities. 

“The word of the day is ‘identity,’” art teacher Lauren Rowe said, giving directions to the West Mifflin Area High School students. 

The activity was part of a November joint meeting with the school’s gay-straight alliance [GSA] and the  Stand Together Team mental health club. After the meeting, the figures were displayed in the hallways. To protect students’ identities, there were no names attached to them. “We want our school to see how we proudly identify ourselves,” said Rowe, who also serves as the Stand Together Team faculty sponsor.