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Allegheny County Jail warden responds to findings of survey from inmates

CBS Pittsburgh 10/5/2022 Jennifer Borrasso

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The warden of the Allegheny County Jail is responding to criticisms from inmates after a survey from the University of Pittsburgh on jail conditions.

Eighty-nine percent of inmates participated in the survey, and one inmate said, "I get disrespected verbally. I've been assaulted physically. I have been tormented." 

Another said, "It's been two months since I submitted two sick call slips, still no doctor visit."

The warden says they've made some changes, but they are not going to satisfy everyone.

"We treat everybody who is incarcerated in our facility with dignity and respect," Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper said.

Harper sat down with KDKA-TV to react to Pitt's survey, which had responses from 1,418 individuals who were locked up last fall. Some reported there were meals with cockroaches and bugs, mildew in showers, withholding medications, cold and sleepless nights, and steep commissary prices.

Regarding cold nights, the warden said the jail provides t-shirts, socks, jail uniforms and two blankets.

"We provide two suicide-resistant blankets to every incarcerated individual in our jail," Harper said. "They are thick blankets so they can not use items to harm themselves and to keep themselves warm."

As far as medical care and complaints of long wait times for care, he pointed out that sometimes medications are not passed at the designated time and the jail is working on that, as well as sanitation and food quality concerns.

The warden said a pest control service cleans kitchen facilities twice a week and there are inspections by the Allegheny County Health Department.

"The deficiencies have greatly reduced," Harper said.

And the jail is looking for a new food service company to take over.

"I have. As a matter of fact, I ate the food on the pod with the inmates, and it was good when I ate it," Harper said.

He said the jail is in compliance with the city's amendment to ban chemical restraints and solitary confinement.

He also addressed allegations of the use of SWAT teams on disabled adults.

"Our correctional response team handles situations as needed for the safety and security of the facility," Harper said. "I don't know of any issues where our crew team abused their powers."

On Monday, Black Political Empowerment Project called for a look into current jail conditions in response to recent inmate deaths and allegations about food safety.

On Wednesday, the jail opened its doors to KDKA-TV's cameras, offering a seemingly restricted tour of the conditions there.

KDKA saw the intake area, the kitchen, some common areas and one pod. Everything looked pretty spotless from what KDKA-TV could see, but that's all we were allowed to see and we were allowed no communication with prisoners or interviews with jail officials.

It's uncertain what KDKA-TV saw Wednesday is the results of those improvements.

An attorney also recently filed a class action lawsuit against the jail, claiming inmates are being held unfairly on probation detainers. 

The Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board is holding a public meeting on Thursday at 4 p.m. This survey is expected to be discussed. Public comments can be submitted until Wednesday at noon.

Allegheny County Jail warden responds to findings of survey from inmates 02:00 © Provided by CBS Pittsburgh Allegheny County Jail warden responds to findings of survey from inmates 02:00
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