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Valley News Dispatch

Groups keep pressure on Allegheny County Jail warden to comply with sex assault law

| Thursday, July 5, 2018, 6:33 p.m.
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Representatives from two Pittsburgh organizations are pressuring Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper to bring the jail into compliance with a federal law meant to prevent sexual assault and harassment following a Tribune-Review investigation.

The jail — which was sued four times last year by women who say they were sexually assaulted there — is violating at least three standards in the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the Trib reported last month.

The jail was violating the act by allowing blind spots in the camera system, failing to have an independent PREA audit performed, and failing to post public reports each year on findings of sexual misconduct and any corrective actions, the Trib found.

After the Trib interviewed Harper for the June story, the jail published its first annual report to its website .

It states there were 23 sexual misconduct claims last year, one of which was substantiated, Harper said.

It is not clear if the report satisfies the requirement in PREA. A U.S. Department of Justice official did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

According to PREA, the report must include “a comparison of the current year's data and corrective actions with those from prior years.” The jail's report does not include that information.

Speaking on behalf of the Pittsburgh-based FISA Foundation, of which she is a former board member, Susan Davis urged Harper to install the cameras and conduct the audit as soon as possible.

“It seems like a situation that could be quickly remediated, whether moving the women (to cells monitored by cameras) or putting the cameras up,” Davis said during a Jail Oversight Board meeting Thursday. “We believe that the audit should be conducted with all due haste and a plan be put in place to remedy any of these inefficiencies.”

“Our question is: when would there be enough cases that it would be important (to do the audit)?” Davis asked.

“Your honor, we are doing what we're supposed to, and I'm confident that we are following PREA policy,” Harper said, addressing Allegheny County Judge David Cashman, chairman of the Jail Oversight Board.

Harper said the funding for the cameras has been secured, but they have not been installed.

Asked whether the jail has had the federally required PREA audit yet, Harper responded no.

He told the Trib in April he does not plan to have the audit done until 2019 or 2020. The first one was due by August 2016 and the next one is due by Aug. 19, 2020.

Davis also urged Harper to negotiate with Allegheny County Prison Employees Independent Union to allow only female guards to work on the female pods.

Harper responded: “As far as females being the only ones working the female pods, I have to worry about that during negotiation process next year, so that's not on me, that's going to be in accordance to the contract.”

Lois “Toni” McClendon, a founding member of New Voices For Reproductive Justice, echoed Davis' comments.

“We intend to hold you all accountable to make sure what you said you were going to do actually has been done,” McClendon said.

Cashman said during the meeting that the jail passed its state inspection and was the “highest rated jail in the commonwealth.”

That inspection focuses on the facility's physical structure and does not check for sexual misconduct, said Amy Worden, a state Corrections Department spokeswoman.

Harper declined to comment to a Trib reporter after the meeting.

Full-body scanner coming

Harper announced the jail was buying a full-body scanner to detect contraband inside inmates' bodies, which would eliminate a controversial policy of strip-searching all inmates after visits with counselors.

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

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