By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
Employees at the Allegheny County Jail tell the Pittsburgh Current they’re not surprised by the recent uptick in pending COVID-19 cases at the jail and fear that without change an outbreak could be right around the corner.
Several employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say that an overcrowded intake wing and inconsistent quarantine procedures, along with other flawed processes, are the likely culprits for the increase.
By rule, all new inmates at the Allegheny County Jail (and as we told you yesterday there are more of them) are ordered to be held in quarantine for 14 days before being allowed in with the general population. But many incarcerated individuals aren’t getting a full two weeks of quarantine. Here’s what’s happening:
By ACJ rule, all new bookings must be held in a cell with another person as a suicide-prevention measure. As one inmate comes off quarantine and moved into the general population, another person is moved into the cell. But while the first inmate may be on day 10 or 12 of his quarantine, his new cellmate may only be on day 3. The first inmate’s quarantine has been disrupted by possible exposure, however, they are still moved out at the end of the quarantine if they are asymptomatic.
“If the new cellmate has COVID-19, the other guy is now leaving and taking the virus out to the other inmates,” said one employee. “The funny thing is, it’s a real easy fix with a simple rotation schedule, rather than just putting people in any cell indiscriminately. It’s simple to implement and keep track of and it would help eliminate this risk. Because a lot of are really afraid that an outbreak is coming and nothing is being done to prevent it.”
Employees say that another issue involves incarcerated persons who are high-risk to contract COVID-19. Under new rules, these inmates are to be kept in their own cells, and they are. But they are still being held on regular pods with other inmates, rather than in an isolated area with others with similar issues. While they have their own cells, these individuals still take recreation time and phone time with the rest of their unit. Currently, employees say there is plenty of room to put these individuals in their own cells because as was the case earlier in the pandemic, there are several empty units where single-cell isolated living could be done safely.
You can read the rest of our coverage on the ACJ during COVID-19 here.