Allegheny County implements 2016 Criminal Justice Report Recommendations

Allegheny County implements 2016 Criminal Justice Report Recommendations

Author: Alanna Koll/Friday, September 15, 2017/Categories: Pittsburgh

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced this week that the county will begin implementing the first two of seven recommendations from the Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Improving Incarceration Policies and Practices in Allegheny County report 

The November 2016 report created by the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics made a series of recommendations designed to enhance both the fairness and the cost-effectiveness of the county’s criminal justice system while maintaining a commitment to public safety.  

Requested by Fitzgerald, the study reflects a concern that the dramatic escalation in incarceration rates over the past 25 years has been ineffective, very expensive, and often unfair.  

According to the report, over the past 20 years, the population of the Allegheny County Jail has increased by 70 percent even as crime rates have fallen, and nearly 42 percent of the county’s general fund budget is allocated to the criminal justice system. A key contributor to this rise in the county jail population is the large number of people being detained prior to trial through the setting of monetary bonds, which often keep low-risk defendants behind bars.  

Eighty-one percent of people the county jail system have not been convicted of the offense for which they are being held, compared to 62 percent nationally, and over 80 percent of those housed in Allegheny County Jail have not been convicted, or even charged, with a violent offense.  

The impact, the report shows, falls disproportionately on African Americans with the booking rate for black men in Allegheny County being nearly double the national average. Nationally, African-American males are six times more likely to be locked up than white males.  

The report proposed the appointment of a nine-member panel that would review progress in implementing its recommendations and suggest that information on the system be shared to improve fairness and effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The nine-member panel will be co-chaired by the Institute of Politics’ Chair Mark A. Nordenberg and Fredrick W. Theiman, the Henry Buhl Jr. Chair for Civic Leadership of the Buhl Foundation.  

“This study by the Institute of Politics is the kind of impactful work that Pitt is interested in facilitating in the hopes of improving this community for all of its residents,” said Nordenberg. “We are grateful that County Executive Fitzgerald is taking action on these first two recommendations, which will position us to more effectively pursue further progress.”  

Other recommendations made by the forty people who worked on the report include: Police, courts and prosecutors should work together to find the earliest possible opportunities to get nonviolent suspects out of custody and into treatment; prosecutors should guard against overcharging; public defenders should be available at preliminary arraignments, when initial decisions on incarceration or release are made; more police should be trained to handle mental health crises, to reduce arrests, and those officers who have the training should divert more people to an underutilized recovery center; Judges should carefully weigh the costs of lengthy probation terms; and the savings could be spent on more police, probation officers and programs to help people stay out of trouble.  

According to Fitzgerald, the nine-member panel and a contracted Criminal Justice System Coordinator will work alongside the County Manager William D. McKain to review progress on the report’s other recommendations and advance its guiding principles.  

Thanks to the work of the Criminal Justice Advisory Board and the advocates in our criminal justice system, we have made significant progress in improving our criminal justice system while balancing those efforts with the preservation of public safety,” said Fitzgerald. “We look forward to building upon those successes.”  

The task force will meet at the discretion of its co-chairs.