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Oversight Board Formalizes Training, Support Policies For The Incarcerated And Employees At The Allegheny County Jail

The Allegheny County Jail.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA News

The Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board approved a list of recommended policies Thursday inspired by exit interviews with former jail employees. The policies include formalized mentorship and training programs for employees as well as a commitment to a standard of conduct for employees and the incarcerated.

Allegheny County Councilor and jail oversight board member Bethany Hallam said the seven recommendations provide a framework for the board to hold jail administrators accountable. “This is necessary to make sure that we as a board are fulfilling our statutory obligation to ensure the health and wellbeing of our incarcerated population,” she said. “Up until now, it’s just been ‘Let’s take their word that they treat folks well.’”

Deputy Warden Laura Williams said the jail either has already implemented or is in the process of implementing most of the recommendations. The policies include specialized de-escalation training for staff working in the mental health and medical departments, as well as implicit bias training for all staff.

Williams said the jail has previously worked with the Persad Center and others to offer trauma-informed training, “But not specific implicit bias training. So I think that would be an important consideration for our agency as well.”

The approved measures would require training to be conducted on an ongoing basis.

The policies would also create a mentorship program for new hires in the mental health and medical departments. The board suggested the program would better support new employees integrating into the system. Williams said the mentorship currently exists informally.

The board also approved a formal policy that prohibits corrections staff from canceling medical appointments for the incarcerated without first consulting medical staff. Williams said the current procedure already prevents corrections staff from making those decisions without consulting medical staff.

Also among the recommendations for treatment of the incarcerated requires the jail to adopt by September, “A policy that all persons in the Allegheny County Jail shall be treated with dignity and respect, without exception.” The jail would have to post signs with this policy throughout the facility and make the policy publicly available online.

According to Williams, the only change as a result of this specific policy would be adding signage and publishing the policy online.

“The jail has an ACJ code of ethics policy as well as professionalism. And though I don’t know if it’s exactly those words, it is certainly the sentiment that everybody is treated humanely within the institution,” Williams said.

Hallam said she often hears otherwise from those in the jail or recently released.

“I receive emails, phone calls and other reports literally every day from incarcerated individuals and their families telling me about people being held in ACJ being treated every way except with dignity,” Hallam said.

Three policies must be in place by September and the remaining four by January 2022.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.