Concerns raised over contracts meant to help Pa. jail end solitary confinement

The contracts will provide lessons for COs on using less lethal weapons to restrain inmates


By Andrew Goldstein
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
        
PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Members of Allegheny County's jail oversight board Thursday raised concerns over two contracts into which the jail recently entered for training and supplies it claims will help the facility eliminate solitary confinement.

The contracts, with a group called Corrections Special Applications Unit, will provide lessons for corrections officers on using less lethal weapons to restrain inmates.

Allegheny County voters in May passed a referendum to ban solitary confinement at the jail, as well as eliminate the use of chemical agents, the restraint chair and leg shackles.

Allegheny County voters in May passed a referendum to ban solitary confinement at the jail, as well as eliminate the use of chemical agents, the restraint chair and leg shackles.
Allegheny County voters in May passed a referendum to ban solitary confinement at the jail, as well as eliminate the use of chemical agents, the restraint chair and leg shackles. (Photo/PDOC)

Warden Orlando Harper said the training will help the jail comply with the referendum and help de-escalate dangerous situations. He declined further comment on the contracts.

Mr. Harper said in June getting into compliance with the referendum was "a huge task because a lot of tools [are] being taken out of our toolbox."

County Councilwoman Bethany Hallam, a member of the jail oversight board, called the contracts "concerning."

"Your plan is to use shotguns and bean bags to de-escalate?" she said.

County Controller Chelsa Wagner, another member of the jail oversight board, echoed Ms. Hallam's concerns. She said she could not comprehend how this contract would lead to de-escalation.

The county agreed to pay the Corrections Special Applications Unit $347,770 for the training and $95,000 for ammunition. The group has been criticized for showing controversial tactics in its promotional videos, including making detainees stand handcuffed and facing a wall as guards aim weapons in their direction, according to the York Daily Record.

Board members agreed to discuss the contracts at next month's meeting.

The board also decided to hold off on returning to in-person meetings until at least October as COVID-19 rates continue to climb in Allegheny County. Most board members said they would like to start holding the meetings in person, but with the delta variant of COVID-19 quickly spreading, they said they wanted to monitor the situation before making a decision.

Similarly, Mr. Harper said visitation at the jail would be delayed "a little bit longer" because of the new COVID-19 spike. He did not speculate on when jail visits may resume.

(c)2021 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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