Almost two-thirds of residents in Allegheny County Jail alt-housing facility have COVID-19

(Image via The Pittsburgh Current)

(This developing story will be updated)

By Charlie Deitch

OAKLAND, Pa.– Nearly 65 percent of residents at an alternative housing facility in Oakland, Pa., outside Pittsburgh, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an April email that an Allegheny County judge sent to members of the Jail Oversight Board that was obtained by the Pittsburgh Current.

ACTA is a 50-bed facility for men located in Oakland that runs The Program for Offenders, a “residential alternative to incarceration.” It offers in-house drug and alcohol treatment. A facility in Homestead is used for women offenders. ACTA contracts its services to the Allegheny County Jail.  And although the residents are in another facility, they are still under the power of the county jail.

“Warden Harper has informed me that out of 17 residents at ACTA [Allegheny County Treatment Alternative], 11 have [tested] positive and 6 have tested negative for COVID-19,” Judge Kimberly Clark wrote in the email, which was obtained by the Pittsburgh Current. “Three staff have also tested positive. Five residents have been released and they are working to find pals to release the remaining six.”

That email came just five days after the board was informed by county jail Warden Orlando Harper that only three inmates had tested positive.

“COVID-19 tests were conducted on all residents when it was learned an employee at the center had tested positive for the virus earlier this week,” Harper wrote in the email obtained by the Pittsburgh Current. “The Alternative Housing Program continues to follow guidance provided by the Allegheny County Health Department and the CDC as it relates to COVID-19, including educating employees and residents on the virus, stressing personal hygiene and regular hand washing, maintaining facility cleanliness, social/physical distancing, visitor restrictions and the availability of PPE.”

The virus seemed to overtake the facility in just a matter of days. Allegheny County Councilor Bethany Hallam, also a member of the Jail Oversight Board, said that this kind of thing was unfortunately bound to happen .he county contracts with three alternative housing programs and Hallam says all three come to Jail Oversight Board meetings to provide information. But no April meeting meant no update.

A jail of two timelines: The two sides of COVID-19 in the Allegheny County Jail

“It’s common knowledge that the Allegheny County Jail has had problems in the past with containing the spread of illnesses, but a lesser talked about issue is that the County’s alternative housing facilities such as ACTA, Renewal, and the Female Offenders program are ill-equipped to follow the proper CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Hallam said. “Now more than ever we need outside, independent monitoring of these facilities – exactly the type of oversight that the Jail Oversight Board is statutorily mandated to provide, yet it hasn’t convened in almost 2 months.”

Procedures relating to COVID-19 have been under scrutiny for more than a month now. Employees at the jail have spoken to the Pittsburgh Current on the condition of anonymity and stressed that management is in over its head and that the public hasn’t been getting the complete picture of the goings-on there.

The oversight board was supposed to have its monthly meeting earlier this month, however, it was canceled despite the objections of members including Hallam and Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

Charlie Deitch is the editor of the Pittsburgh Current, where this story first appeared