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Allegheny

Allegheny County Jail to start installing cameras in blind spots

Theresa Clift
| Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, 5:51 p.m.

Allegheny County officials plan to install additional surveillance cameras at the jail this month after a Tribune-Review report revealed blind spots in the jail’s camera system violate a federal law.

Crews will start installing the cameras at the end of the month, starting with the housing units for women, Warden Orlando Harper said in an email through county spokeswoman Amie Downs. He declined to say how many cameras will be installed, whether they will eliminate all the jail’s blind spots and when the project would be finished.

The jail’s camera system blind spots are in violation of the U.S. Prison Rape Elimination Act, the Trib reported in June .

Three women last year filed lawsuits claiming they were sexually assaulted by a guard in off-camera cells in 2015. One received a $32,000 county settlement in December.

They weren’t the first lawsuits that mentioned off-camera cells.

During a November 2016 deposition about a case involving an inmate beating that happened in an off-camera cell in 2013, attorney Steven Barth asked Harper why cameras had not been added.

“I haven’t had enough inmate violence to make that change at this time,” Harper replied, according to the transcript.

During an interview with the Trib in April, Harper said he had secured county funding for the cameras.

The cameras will cost $519,397, Harper said in the email.

Even after cameras are installed, the jail will remain in violation of the federal PREA law until an audit is conducted to determine whether it is following all standards of the act. It has been two years since a federal deadline passed to be audited.

That audit will not be done until 2020, after a health care audit is conducted, Harper said during a Jail Oversight Board meeting in August.

If the PREA audit isn’t done by Aug. 19, 2020, the jail will have missed the federal deadline for a second time.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Theresa at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tclift.

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