By Charlie Deitch
PITTSBURGH — Orders have been sent to the Allegheny County Jail to release 189 incarcerated individuals in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In a Thursday statement, county spokesperson Amie Downs said staff in the county’s “Criminal Court Administration, the Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office are continually reviewing cases to determine which inmates are appropriate for release.
Those cases are then addressed in Motions Court or reviewed with the assigned Judge depending on the circumstances. This review is not limited to just those inmates with health problems, although those cases are being considered first. The Public Defender’s Office is working to identify all non-violent inmates held only on cash bails.
“So far, 189 inmate releases have been sent to the jail. Releases are being processed by the jail as they are received, and the same process related to discharge and release followed as is done traditionally. This includes ensuring that inmates being released have access to a free phone call, free bus ticket, free Intranasal Narcan (Naloxone HCL) upon affirmative response at time of offer, a packet of requested community resource information, letter of Incarceration Verification (upon request), and inmates are also encouraged to take a flyer or business card to reach the Discharge & Release Center for assistance with future needs.
“This is an ongoing collaborative effort which includes the Judges, Court Administration, the Allegheny County Jail, the Public Defender, the District Attorney’s Office, Adult Probation, Pretrial Services, and the Private Bar. Emergency petitions can also be filed and are addressed by the court in Motions Court,” the statement reads.
The move comes days after several elected officials and community organizations demanded that inmates at the jail who are at high-risk for the virus, held on low-level charges, those on a probation hold and those in pretrial confinement be released.
“I will say, 189 is a good number,” said Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Project. “Now we need to see how many more we can get and how quickly we can get them all discharged. Again, that’s a good number, but we also can’t keep replenishing it either.
“One thing that would speed this process up is that the courts don’t need a motion to lift a probation detainer. Judges can do that on their own accord. But these are positive steps that we’re seeing.”
Charlie Deitch is the editor of the Pittsburgh Current, where this story first appeared.