ShareThis Page
Allegheny

Allegheny County aims to cut jail population by 20 percent with $2M grant

Megan Guza
| Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, 4:36 a.m.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. speaks about a $2 million grant Allegheny County received from the MacArthur Foundation for criminal justice reform.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. speaks about a $2 million grant Allegheny County received from the MacArthur Foundation for criminal justice reform.

Allegheny County will receive $2 million from the MacArthur Foundation to help reform the area’s criminal justice system, officials said this week.

The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $148 million national initiative to aiming to lower incarceration rates by changing the overall function of jails.

“The concept behind the initiative is we can address our over-incarceration, which is a national issue, at a local level,” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said during a press conference to announce the grant Thursday.

The goal, he said, is to reduce the average daily population by 20 percent over the next two years.

He cited national numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that the number of people in local jails tripled between 1985 and 2014 – something that costs taxpayers money. Locally, he said, the population of the Allegheny County Jail has increased by 70 percent – “even at a time when crime rates have fallen,” he said.

The rise can be attributed in part to the rise of monetary bail and bonds, which keep low-risk offenders in jail while they await trial.

Fitzgerald also acknowledged the jail’s racial disparity: 13 percent of the county’s population is African American, though African Americans make up 49 percent of the jail’s population.

Allegheny County is among 13 jurisdictions to receive funding based on their goals and what they’ve done so far. The county has made public defenders available from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays to assist defendants during preliminary arraignment in Pittsburgh Municipal Court.

“Not having representation can have a substantial impact on the jail population,” Fitzgerald said. “The presiding judge often decides whether a defendant will be held in jail, required to pay bail … or be released pending trial.”

He said access to public defenders has reduced the use of cash bail by 19 percent and jail bookings by 18 percent, and some of the grant money will go toward making public defenders available on nights and weekends – something that could continue those downward trends.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said the grant will mean his office can put two more attorneys in pre-trial screening. That will help cut the time from a preliminary hearing to formal arraignment from eight weeks to less than five weeks, he said.

Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Manning said how the use of jail has long been a focus for reform.

“The court is committed to reducing the jail population without affecting public safety,” he said. “Public safety is always the most important thing.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, mguza@tribweb.com or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me