Allegheny County, PA

Change in Jail Population 37%

Action Areas Courts Defense Counsel Pretrial Services

Last Updated

Background

For many years, Allegheny County has been committed to making improvements to the local justice system.

The overuse of the Allegheny County jail takes an especially heavy toll on people of color. Despite making up only 13% of the local population, Black people make up 67% of the jail population as of June 2021.

In addition, roughly 75% of the jail population has been identified as having a mental health issue or substance use disorder. Those with a history of behavioral health issues spend an average of 14 days longer in jail than those without that background.

Though there has been marked progress, the data shows there is still more to be done to address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system, more effectively address behavioral health issues, and more efficiently process cases.

Strategies

Allegheny County advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.

01

COUNSEL AT FIRST APPEARANCE

The county expanded public defender representation at first appearance by hiring additional attorneys to represent people during evening and overnight hours.

02

COURT PROCESSING

The county developed a plan to expedite the court process by combining two hearings into one.

03

RESOLVING PROBATION VIOLATIONS

The county implemented a new procedure to resolve probation violations and new charges with one hearing.

04

REDUCING DETAINERS FOR PROBATION VIOLATIONS

The county implemented strategies to reduce the number and length of detainers for probation violations by adopting a new policy to limit the use of detainers and expedite lifting them and by establishing a multi-agency workgroup to review cases of people held on detainers.

05

RACIAL & ETHNIC DISPARITIES

The county is participating in a research study commissioned by the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics to use qualitative and quantitative data to determine what is driving racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system and to recommend solutions.

Results

As a result of the strategies above, Allegheny County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system

Quartery ADP for Allegheny County (2018-2021)

36.8% from baseline

More Results

The county has been able to reduce its jail population since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge while keeping the community safe.

In addition, the county found that individuals who are represented by the Public Defender at first appearance have a lower booking rate than those who are not. From there, the Office of the Public Defender started providing representation during evening and overnight preliminary arraignments. As a result, Magisterial District Judges used monetary bond 39% less often versus a comparison from the same timeframe in 2018.

The number of people detained by the county’s Adult Probation dropped 41.5% from October 2018 to April 2021. In addition, during the same time period, the early probation violation process saved an average of 84 days in jail for over 300 cases.

Remaining Challenges

Allegheny County is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

First is that the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted how long it takes to resolve cases, and second, and the county has seen an increase in racial disparities in the jail population.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in local jails. The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that were developed to support these strategies, set the county up well to respond to the pandemic swiftly and effectively, however challenges remain.

Like many jurisdictions, Allegheny County has seen incarceration rates drop for Black individuals, while the racial disparity in the jail population has grown. The county is working with the Burns Institute on strategies to address this disparity, while still working tirelessly to reduce overall incarceration rates.

Lead Agency

Allegheny County Manager’s Office

Contact Information

Molly Morrill
Mmorrill@alleghenycourts.us

Partners

Fifth Judicial District Court Administration, Allegheny County District Attorney's Office, Executive Branch of the County government, including the Jail, the Office of the Public Defender, Allegheny County Adult Probation, and the Department of Human Services

Follow @allegheny_co

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