As an educator, I always think about how to explain the mechanism under which I work to up and coming young journalists. For #WorldPressFreedomDay I’d like to talk about how Allegheny County hasn’t responded to my questions in 70 days.
Covering the jail, questions have to go through the Spokesperson who works directly for the County Executive. In years prior, a question about the jail would be answered by the jail. Today, I cannot ask the ACJ administration anything without going through the County Executive.
Over the summer, the @pghcurrent broke the story about the book ban at the Allegheny County Jail. County Spokesperson Amie Downs called The Current “not a real news source.” After readers started calling her office, she readily provided comment.
In Feb, we published a story about lack of COVID-19 testing at the ACJ. The county provided answers from Warden Harper and The Health Department. This is the last time I’ve received any information without filing a Right-to-Know request.…
Our story about testing at the jail was cited by a prison health expert in a district court. The court ruled the ACJ must text newly admitted incarcerated persons. I did a follow up story to which the county did not respond.…
That same month, @charliedee71 & I wrote about how since becoming Allegheny County Chief Executive in 2012, Rich Fitzgerald has never attended a Jail Oversight Board meeting. Here are some questions I sent to the county, which they chose to ignore:…
For our latest investigation, I emailed the county asking whether the jail has an on-staff dietician for incarcerated persons. I emailed again to ask about worker compensation and social distancing protocol for workers at the jail. No response.…
There are at least four other jail stories since Feb that the county has failed to provide information.
So, what can a local journalist do when the county refuses? You can file a Right-to-Know request. This delays any story. The county can choose to extend their response 30 days
After that 30 day extension, they can choose to deny your request. You can appeal this denial and the Office of Open Records then decides what is public and what is not. However, the county also has the power to deny the OOR decision and take journalists to Common Pleas Court.
In fact, we are in the process of going to court to obtain a record that well-established state law says we are entitled to.
I requested the Allegheny County Health Department inspection of the ACJ kitchen through RTK. The county asked for a 30 day extension even though the inspection reports are on the county website.…
In another instance, jail policy records denied to me were granted to nonprofit organization. That same organization was denied certain policy records that I was able to obtain.…
These obstacles have created roadblocks for stories, delaying information for the public for weeks and months. Family members of incarcerated persons encounter the same opacity. Any Pittsburgh citizen can encounter this when seeking information from our local government.
It makes it harder for me to do my job, sure, and I will continue to provide as much documentation as I can to any story. But the county has demonstrated that it is not interested in having a public discussion and prefers to operate without accountability or access to public info
A person investigating the jail, a tax-funded entity housing Pittsburgh citizens, must jump through so many hoops in order to answer basic questions. So, for #WorldPressFreedomDay, I urge the county to increase access and transparency for folks who are trying to do their job.

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More from @BrittanyHailer

3 May
U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.

Yet, at the Allegheny Co. Jail, those who have not been convicted work to make the jail function, for free.…
.@bethanyhallam said that every dollar the jail saves goes in the county’s general fund instead of the worker’s pockets, “The county is profiting off of forced labor...It is essentially slave labor.”…
According to Allegheny County Jail policy incarcerated persons are compensated two ways: food and contact visits with loved ones. During a pandemic, though, the latter is not possible.…
Read 6 tweets
2 May
A year in the ACJ kitchen:

Forty workers at a time prepare food for more than 1,600 hungry men and women. Standing shoulder to shoulder, they transfer meatballs and applesauce to trays, then load those trays to a cart and send them up in the elevator.…
The workplace has been at the center of numerous COVID outbreaks at the jail. Over the past year, when the unpaid workers get sick, the kitchen slows to a crawl and falls behind. For the incarcerated, food quality is somehow worse than it was pre-COVID.…
Sources for this story said that food quality, unsafe working conditions, and unsanitary work practices partially stems from the jail’s contract with companies like Summit, but ultimately, they said the blame falls on the jail administration.…
Read 4 tweets
21 Nov 20
Idk if you’ve ever been inside Allegheny County Jail, but I used to teach there. A “leisure library” is not what it sounds like. It’s a cart or pile of discarded and forgotten books. It’s not a room. It’s not something curated. It’s got literature in it if you’re lucky. (Thread)
The program I worked for was Words Without Walls with Chatham University. Founded and directed by the incomparable Sarah Shotland. The program also teaches children because they’re are incarcerated persons under 18 at the ACJ. This book restriction affects them, too.
The teachers of this program have not been able to access their students since the beginning of the pandemic. You experienced different levels of concern with bringing in materials be it books or notebooks, but these students also haven’t had a writing outlet or class since March
Read 8 tweets
21 Nov 20
Netflix’s “We Are The Champions” just introduced me to competitive dog dancing. I resign. This is my calling.
We have a volunteer.
Read 4 tweets
19 Nov 20
Amy Downs called the Pittsburgh Current ‘not a real news outlet’ after we published a story on the Allegheny County Jail banning inmates from receiving books.

PublicSource ran the same story a couple hours after us. What does that tell you? Image
Sonya M. Alemán:

Reliance on official record keeping government documents, logs, files, court dockets, council agendas, and meeting minutes sustain the status quo and an epistemology embedded with whiteness’ because these records are tied to ideas of ‘reason’ and ‘objectivity’
She wrote “not really a news outlet” and her name is spelled Amie. 🙃
Read 4 tweets
18 Nov 20
According to Thomas J. Weber, CEO of PrimeCare Medical, which provides correctional health services in 80 facilities across five states, alcohol detoxification has doubled in jails and prisons since the beginning of the pandemic.
Quarantine is exacerbating mental health for folks on the inside, much like it is affecting us on the outside. Those incarcerated are deeply worried about family members contracting the virus, and during quarantine cannot call or communicate as regularly.
Facilities have to be careful in monitoring PPE because certain materials can be used for suicide. Weber also said that PrimeCare can make recommendations for mask wearing at a facility, but not mandate it. And some security folks will not wear masks.
Read 11 tweets

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