Identity & Justice

The identity and justice desk explores how the makeup of the Pittsburgh community is changing, and digs into issues of diversity and equity.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

During a federal court hearing Tuesday, a top Allegheny County Jail official offered new details Tuesday on measures the facility has taken to ward off a potential outbreak of COVID-19 within its walls. But critics warned the jail’s plan, and its execution, are riddled with shortcomings that put inmates and staff at heightened risk of infection.

Prosecutors Urge Lawmakers To Help Decide On Freeing Inmates

14 hours ago
Matt Rourke / AP

As officials consider releasing some inmates to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on Pennsylvania prisons, county prosecutors are telling lawmakers that passing legislation to address that would avoid leaving those decisions to the governor alone.

Dave Klug / AP

A federal judge has rejected a bid by the suspect in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting to have the death penalty removed as a potential sentencing option.

Lawyers for Robert Bowers argued that capital punishment violates the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause and the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Senior District Judge Donetta W. Ambrose noted in a trio of rulings Monday that courts have consistently upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty.



On today's program: PA’s attorney general is urging banks to voluntarily grant their customers grace periods; worries grow about health care inequity during the coronavirus outbreak; and most Americans seem to agree about a slow approach to reopening the economy.  

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA


On today's program: Diapers remain in short supply for some Western PA parents; CMU’s virtual tip jar already boasts 6,000 names; scientists worry that poor air quality could make the Pittsburgh region more susceptible to coronavirus; and without reliable internet, rural school districts are struggling to provide equitable education.

90.5 WESA

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied a request to order the wholesale release of prisoners held by jails in Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. But in a partial win for prison-reform advocates, the Court ordered county judges and officials to do what they could to minimize the threat of the coronavirus behind bars.

Marc Levy / AP

Pennsylvania corrections secretary John Wetzel said earlier this week that his department is taking steps to reduce the state’s incarcerated population, in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus behind bars. But prison-reform advocates argue that more dramatic action is needed to remedy conditions that they say amount to cruel and unusual punishment.


Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

With reports of bigotry against people of Asian descent on the rise, Democratic state lawmakers including state Senators Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills) and Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) are calling to address hate crimes in Pennsylvania.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA


On today's program: What to expect when venturing into city parks; 911 centers will know if they’re responding to COVID-19 patients; and scientists need help from amateur researchers.

What The Pennsylvania National Guard Does When The Governor Calls

Mar 31, 2020
Rich Pedroncelli / AP

More than 8,000 members of the National Guard have mobilized across the United States to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

In an emergency petition Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania asked the state Supreme Court to order the mass release of inmates from county jails across the Commonwealth.

Jared Murphy / 90.5 WESA

Members of Allegheny County Council have abandoned legislation that would have mandated the release of jail inmates charged with low-level crimes. 

Matt Rourke / AP

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld laws Thursday that require offenders deemed “sexually violent predators” to undergo lifetime counseling and registration and be the subject of community notices.

Courtesy of Northside Common Ministries

On today's program: How one homeless shelter is coping during the pandemic; why UPMC says elective procedures should proceed, even as resources remain tight; and farmers are declared life-sustaining, but it’s unclear where they can sell their food.

Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by a gun shop that challenged Gov. Tom Wolf’s authority to shutter businesses determined to be “non-life-sustaining,” paving the way for enforcement to begin Monday.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Democratic Allegheny County Councilors Liv Bennett and Bethany Hallam plan to introduce emergency legislation next week to slash the county’s jail population, the latest effort to mitigate the spread of coronavirus behind bars.

Marc Levy / AP

Prison-reform advocates and the state Department of Corrections jousted Thursday morning over whether the coronavirus has already infiltrated the state prison system – and over what should be done to limit its spread.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

On today's program: The state prison system grapples with social distancing for staff and inmates; a look at our region’s health care system and its readiness to take on more sick people; and PA is creeping closer to its new mail-in voting deadline.

Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

The Pennsylvania Instant Check System, which is used to determine if someone can legally acquire a license to carry a firearm or obtain a firearm for a seller, saw a “surge in requests” earlier this week, said Major Gary Dance, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Records and Identification.

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In response to the spread of the coronavirus, people are encouraged to wash their hands and to isolate themselves if they experience symptoms. “When you’re homeless you don’t have many of those options,” said Jerrel T. Gilliam, executive director of Light of Life Rescue Mission on the North Side.

90.5 WESA

Conditions at the Allegheny County Jail create “the perfect storm for a potential COVID-19 outbreak,” local activists said in an online statement that calls for the mass release of people held at the jail.

Crowded Conditions, Close Contact Behind Bars Complicate Public Health Challenge

Mar 13, 2020
Matt Rourke / AP

Matthew Keller got word on Thursday that he was losing his job. He wasn’t performing poorly at the Cold Choice salad bar in Lebanon, where he works food prep. In fact, he was on track to a full-time schedule at $9.50 per hour.

Jared Murphy / 90.5 WESA

Child care facilities and after school programs in the Pittsburgh region are developing plans if there are large-scale school closures. Most centers remain open, with caretakers emphasizing good hygiene among children. 

Altaf Qadri / AP

Cleaning companies have been in high-demand this week as employers across the region have moved non-essential workers off-site or adjusted hours and duties to ward off the spread of COVID-19.

So far, there are no cases of the coronavirus in Allegheny County, but businesses, elected officials and health care professionals are preparing for that eventuality.

SEIU 32BJ is a union representing about 23,000 service workers statewide, including janitors, food service workers and security guards.

Marc Levy / AP

A task force set up three years ago issued recommendations Wednesday about how to improve the process of reentering outside society among prisoners who have finished their sentences.

The Pennsylvania Reentry Council's report addresses housing, work, health, education and other challenges that former inmates face upon release from incarceration.

Ariel Worthy / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Councilors Daniel Lavelle and Ricky Burgess introduced legislation on Tuesday that asks the city to adopt 10 commitments to racial equity. 

Courtesy of Therese Rocco


On today's program: A new play explores the life and career of Pittsburgh’s first female assistant police chief; Pitt explains why PFAS chemicals are cause for worry; residents of a Philadelphia neighborhood are proud of their exclusionary reputation; and COVID-19 preparations continue in Pittsburgh.  

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA


On today's program: Pittsburgh’s new NAACP director shares her vision for equitable community development; how refugees are affecting some American towns; and why some local libraries have eliminated late fees.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

About $5.5 million that poured in from donors after the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue attack that killed 11 worshippers is being distributed according to a plan outlined Monday by Jewish groups.

The largest share, just over $3 million, will go to the families of those killed and to two people who were seriously injured. Donations are also being distributed to people who were in the Tree of Life building during the attack, to first responders and to the congregations.

Matt Rourke / AP

A judge in western Pennsylvania has thrown out the conviction of a retired Roman Catholic priest accused of having assaulted a boy almost two decades ago.