Advocates demand Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald attend Jail Oversight Board meetings

By Dannys Marrero
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer

On Tuesday, May 4, community leaders marched into the office of Allegheny County Executive Fitzgerald demanding that he attend meetings of the Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board as mandated by state law.

The purpose of the Jail Oversight Board (JOB) is to ensure proper management of the county jail. However, even though Fitzgerald is a member of the Jail Oversight Board by state statute, records indicate that he has not attended a JOB meeting since taking office in 2012. The Current reported extensively on the issue in March.

“We are demanding [Fitzgerald] attend the county board meetings pertaining to the conditions and the things that are going on inside the Allegheny county jail,” said Terrell Leonard, a member of the Allegheny County Jail Strategic Committee.

The three-page letter was delivered by Ryan Whyte of 1Hood and it highlighted many of the serious allegations made against the ACJ during the COVID-19 pandemic, including its initial refusal to test the jail population.

“I was incarcerated, and I went through those conditions during COVID-19. I caught COVID myself in the Allegheny county jail,” said Leonard “that letter [demands that] he present himself and [make] some change. At least attend the meetings; At least be informed of what is going on in your county.”

Other allegations stated in the letter were the default placement of individuals with psychiatric disabilities into solitary confinement, the routine and prolonged use of restraint chairs, rampant and needless use of force, mismanagement and mistreatment of staff resulting in acute staffing shortages (especially in the medical unit), inferior to nonexistent physical and mental health care, fluctuating and inconsistent medication distribution, unpalatable food, unsanitary conditions including dirty trays, live and dead roaches in food, rats in kitchen areas, failure to provide cleaning supplies for individuals to use in their cells, and the mistreatment and purposeful misclassification of transgender inmates.

Charles Timbers, a former nurse practitioner at the Allegheny County Jail was one of the concerned citizens in attendance.

“We want Rich Fitzgerald to be held accountable for what’s going on at the Allegheny county jail. I was a former employee thus I have seen some of the atrocities that occurred at the Allegheny County Jail. For over a decade Rich Fitzgerald has not attended any of these meetings,” said Timbers “He is neglecting this one responsibility and we want to know why. How can you just sit back and watch these things happen in your house? The ACJ is part of his administration and he needs to address those conditions and he’s just totally ignored us.”

As the coalition entered the office with the letter on hand, they were swiftly dismissed by the receptionist and told that the County Executive was not available at the time.

The members proceeded to explain the content of the letter and why it was of upmost importance for Fitzgerald to acknowledge to which the receptionist assured that Fitzgerald will be receiving the letter.

“He’s the boss of Warden Orlando Harper and Deputy Warden Laura Williams, and we’re demanding some administrative change,” said Timbers.

The group exited the office but not without assuring that they will continue to hold Fitzgerald accountable until changes are made for the better at the Allegheny County Jail. The next meeting of the JOB is Thursday, May 6.

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