By Ryan Deto
PITTSBURGH — Five current inmates at the Allegheny County Jail filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the county, Warden Orlando Harper, and county and jail officials in charge of mental health. The lawsuit alleges that the jail is “rife with systemic deficiencies that deprive people with psychiatric disabilities of necessary care, and, indeed, make their conditions worse.”
The plaintiffs are all inmates within the jail and suffer from psychiatric disabilities such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and depression. The lawsuit claims these alleged conditions should be brought forth because 75% to 80% of those held at ACJ are constitutionally presumed innocent and have not yet been convicted of any crimes. It alleges constitutional violations, and violations against the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We recognize there are many employees at ACJ who try their best to provide care, yet face an impossible task due to inadequate systems, resources, and direction,” said Keith Whitson of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP in a press release. “This lawsuit focuses primarily on the illegal systemic failures that make treatment nearly nonexistent, and the frequent imposition of punishment in place of treatment.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the inmates by The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP. It was filed in U.S. District Court of Western Pennsylvania, and is a class-action lawsuit.
Allegheny County spokesperson Amie Downs says the county doesn’t comment on lawsuits or legal matters as a policy.
According to a press release, the complaint contends that proper staff training and adequate mental health staffing levels have not been met by Harper or Deputy Warden Laura Williams. The lawsuit also alleges that the plaintiffs have been held for long stints in solitary confinement as a punishment for seeking mental health care. One plaintiff claims they have been placed in solitary for over a year.
The lawsuit contends that jail staff have used tasers, pepper spray, and restraint chains for inmates requesting mental health care.