Pittsburgh, Allegheny County voters approve solitary confinement restrictions

Nearly 70% of voters in Tuesday's election supported the measure


By Tom Davidson
The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
        
PITTSBURGH — No-knock warrants will be banned in Pittsburgh and solitary confinement will be restricted at Allegheny County Jail after voters overwhelmingly approved two ballot questions in Tuesday's election.

Voters petitioned to add the questions to the ballot and they had broad support from both city and county residents, according to Brandi Fisher, who leads the Pittsburgh-based Alliance for Police Accountability.

"There was an overwhelming response from people who wanted these to be passed," Fisher said.

Voters approved a ban on solitary confinement for Allegheny County Jail inmates except in cases of lockdowns, medical or safety emergencies, and protective separation requests.
Voters approved a ban on solitary confinement for Allegheny County Jail inmates except in cases of lockdowns, medical or safety emergencies, and protective separation requests. (Peter Radunzel)

The no-knock warrant ballot question was limited to voters in Pittsburgh. It amends the city's charter to ban city police from serving a warrant without announcing themselves.

About 81% of voters, or more than 49,000, supported the measure, according to unofficial results.

It is similar to other laws passed across the country that were inspired by Breonna Taylor's 2020 shooting by police in Louisville, Ky., during a botched raid on her apartment.

Taylor was shot by plainclothes officers who entered her boyfriend's apartment to serve a warrant that was part of a drug investigation.

Taylor's boyfriend fired what he called a warning shot after police entered, police returned fire and Taylor was killed.

None of the officers were charged with a crime specifically tied to Taylor's death.

Prosecutors said the officers were "justified in their use of force" because Taylor's boyfriend fired at officers first. One officer was charged with wanton endangerment because he fired blindly through a door and window.

Pittsburgh police do not use "no-knock warrants," officials have said, and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s spokesman Mike Manko said there isn't a way for law enforcement to request such warrants in Pennsylvania.

Given that's the case, Fisher and others who supported the ban said there shouldn't be a problem with enacting one.

The amendment to the city's charter is stronger than a similar ordinance council has been considering for adoption because council could always amend an ordinance, but changing the charter again would require another referendum, Fisher said.

Confinement question

The other ballot question voters approved bans solitary confinement for Allegheny County Jail inmates except in cases of lockdowns, medical or safety emergencies, and protective separation requests.

Nearly 70% of voters, or more than 166,000, supported the measure, according to unofficial results.

Many people in the jail are there because of probation violations or as they await court cases, but if they violate rules of the jail, solitary confinement is used as a punishment, Fisher said.

"It's inhumane," she said.

Both ballot questions were intended to address public safety issues that can prevent problems before they happen, Fisher said.
     
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