Lawsuit alleges ‘rough treatment’ of psychiatric sufferers at Allegheny County Jail

By Jordana Rosenfeld

PITTSBURGH— Lawyers from two advocacy groups and a national law firm have filed a motion in federal court seeking a class action lawsuit for all those incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail who need mental health care.

The petition alleges serious and systemic violations of the U.S. Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act for what plaintiffs describe as “the prison’s failure to provide adequate mental health care and its discriminatory and brutal treatment of people with psychiatric disorders”.

Motion includes ‘compelling evidence’ found over a 20-month discovery period that Allegheny County violated the rights of incarcerated people with psychiatric disorders by failing to provide them with proper treatment and subjecting them to solitary confinement prolonged and routine excessive force, according to a June 9 publication of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project.

“The ACJ does not provide meaningful mental health care to people in its care and in many cases actually punishes people who seek help,” said PILP’s Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz. “We have seen evidence that those incarcerated at the ACJ suffered as staff at best turned a blind eye and at other times assaulted people for manifestations of their mental illness. Their conditions deteriorated, and ACJ’s already high completion and suicide attempt rates continued to rise. It is absolutely intolerable and inhuman.

A prison spokesman declined to comment on the ongoing litigation on principle.

Class actions seek relief for large numbers of plaintiffs facing similar circumstances, particularly if it would be financially impractical to pursue each claim as a separate case. To initiate a class action, a judge must first certify that the group of individuals in question forms a valid class.

In the recent petition, plaintiffs define their category as “all persons currently or hereafter incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail who have, or will in the future have, a mental diagnosis, disorder or disability severe, as recognized in DSM-V, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder.

The brief filed in support of the motion provides “abundant” evidence that the plaintiffs say shows that the ACJ fails to meet state and national standards for the delivery of mental health care in “virtually every aspect.” including “a grossly insufficient mental health workforce; minimal or no training; inefficient admission procedures that fail to identify patient needs; insufficient treatment plans; lack of counseling or therapy; and no quality improvement programs to evaluate their own policies and practices.

The memoir also argues that in lieu of mental health care, the ACJ uses force at rates that are “by far the highest in the entire Commonwealth”.

According to county data, the ACJ had 585 use-of-force incidents in 2020 and 720 such incidents in 2019. Pennsylvania’s second-highest county had less than half of that each year. number of incidents, according to the brief.

“This thorough investigation into conditions at the ACJ has reinforced what we already knew: the staff at the ACJ are sadly unprepared and the mental health care system at the ACJ is woefully and unconstitutionally inadequate,” says Jaclyn Kurin, staff attorney at the Abolitionist Law Center. .

If granted, plaintiffs will be able to seek a court order providing remedies for illegal policies and practices on behalf of all people with mental health issues at the prison.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and names former Deputy Director of Health Services Laura Williams, current Director Orlando Harper, former Director of Mental Health Michael Barfield and Allegheny County as defendants. Plaintiffs are represented by multiple attorneys from the Abolitionist Law Center, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

Jordana Rosenfeld is a reporter for the Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.

About Antoine L. Cassell

Check Also

Notley says outside firm will review NDP treatment of staff and volunteers

Breadcrumb Links Policy New National Author of the article: The Canadian Press Dean Bennett Publication …