Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kitchen conditions, medical care lead discussion at jail oversight board meeting

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Jail officials plan to make some changes to the facility’s kitchen in response to long-standing concerns from incarcerated people and members of the public about poor food quality and unsanitary conditions. But some members of the county’s jail oversight board are still concerned that some incarcerated people’s constitutional rights are being violated elsewhere in the jail.

At a meeting on Thursday, deputy warden Blythe Toma told the board that jail officials are “evaluating the kitchen operations” in response and has worked with the county health department to create a corrective action plan. She said the jail plans to create and hire for two new positions “in the near future”: a food service manager and a food service supervisor. In the meantime, a captain and a sergeant have been assigned to the kitchen to oversee cleaning, pest mitigation and general operations.

They also worked with the health department to create a new extermination plan. In past oversight board meetings, public commenters have shared stories about rodent sightings in food preparation areas.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

Fort Pitt Exterminators treats the kitchen area twice a week, but a recent inspection by the Allegheny County Health Department found both dead and live mice and roaches and rodent droppings throughout the facility, as well as potentially dangerous sanitation practices.

Under the new plan, food service, storage and preparation areas will be treated by a second extermination company beginning with a “full mitigation plan,” which includes two deep cleans of the affected areas as well as additional exterminations.

Once hired, the food service manager and food service supervisor would oversee the exterminations and kitchen invoices and make sure kitchen equipment is operational, among other things.

The rodent issues aren’t likely to be solved by a single exterminator, Toma said, so the manager and supervisor “would be able to go in continually and evaluate all those things on a continual basis.” She noted that the county’s Kane Community Living Centers employ a similar position.

Toma also said officials hope to post a new request for proposals for the jail’s food services provider by next week.

Public commenters and some jail oversight board members also discussed their ongoing concerns about medical care at the jail. Two women alleged that their sons were denied medical attention.

Lisa Pegues’s son is incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail. At the board’s January meeting, she said her son, Samuel, was injured during an altercation with another incarcerated person before Jan. 6 but didn’t receive medical attention until Jan. 30. As of Feb. 2, she said her son still had not received an x-ray for his rib injury.

Pegues said that though her son did eventually receive medical attention, it happened “very slowly.”

“Everyone deserves basic human rights and that is, if you’re sick, you should be able to get medical attention,” she said.

In late January, the Abolitionist Law Center alleged that jail officials were withholding medication from Denzelle Kendrick, who is being held at the jail. He has sickle cell disease and avascular necrosis of his right hip, both of which can cause severe pain. Kendrick was moved from Cambria County Jail to Allegheny County Jail last summer in an effort to get him better access to medical treatment.

“I have been fighting for my son to receive medical treatment and medication,” said Cadiadra Kendrick, Denzelle’s mother. She said her son takes multiple medications to manage his sickle cell disease, pain and potential infections, but she claims jail officials have not given him the medicine, leaving her to worry for his life.

“His life means something,” Kendrick said. “He’s not an animal, and even if he was, animals receive medical attention.”

Public commenters worried the situation is one in a string of potential constitutional rights violations. Some called for “traumatic practices” including strip searches, punitive administrative custody (or, solitary confinement) and the withholding of medications to be discontinued.

The jail’s health services administrator, Dr. Ashley Brinkman, said details about Denzelle Kendrick and Samuel Pegues’s cases were inaccurate but declined to offer corrections, citing patient confidentiality laws.

In other jail oversight board news

  • Board member Gayle Moss on Thursday introduced a motion to add a member of the oversight board to the jail’s own book review committee. The motion passed. Moss will represent the board when jail officials meet to discuss books that have been rejected from the jail.

  • Court of Common Pleas Judge Beth Lazzara, who also sits on the oversight board, said hiring for the long-awaited jail liaison position is moving forward. The subcommittee in charge of the hiring process will present their recommended candidate to the full board at the next meeting in March.

  • And Allegheny County Councilor and oversight board member Bethany Hallam plans to introduce a motion to pay all incarcerated workers the county minimum wage at next month’s meeting. Currently, those who work kitchen, laundry, and general maintenance jobs while incarcerated at the jail do not receive monetary compensation.
Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at