Members and friends of ALC Court Watch publish articles on racialized data trends, eye-witness stories, abolition, and other court and carceral-related happenings and controversies in Allegheny County.
Adult Sized Crime
Last week, District Attorney Steven Zappalla announced he would be seeking to charge a 15 year-old accused of attacking his teacher as an adult, explaining that “the interests of the community are best served if the matter is transferred to the adult division for trial.” Multiple news outlets describe the boy as over six feet tall and 200 pounds. This kind of physical description is a well-known racist dog-whistle. They also describe him as having a “mental disability” and as having been moved between multiple foster homes. They may as well have been describing my brother.
A position statement from ALC in opposition to the blatant intimidation of an elected official – “Make no mistake about it, this is about defending the democratic will of the people that elected Magistrate Pappas on a platform of decarceration and protecting the advances of a human rights movement to keep people out of cages and in their homes. That is what we are defending. We perceive the same state agencies that oppose and intimidate elected members of the judiciary in Allegheny County as the same forces that oppose progressive prosecutors and judges, from Philly to SF.”
A position statement from ALC on the recently announced City Council ordinance concerning Stop-And-Frisks – “The current ordinance requires only that police officers memorialize the reasons that they believe constitute ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a person has committed a crime prior to temporarily detaining them...[The ordinance] will do little to reduce [stop-and-frisks] – a practice that is unequivocally performed in a racially-discriminatory manner, perpetrates significant harm on our communities, and does nothing to improve public safety.”
An anonymous Court Watch volunteer reports on the Allegheny County Jail’s deeply troubling new contracts – “[Joseph Garcia] is a charlatan who specializes in teaching prison guards to shoot incarcerated people with 12-gauge shotguns at close range. And none of that stopped Allegheny County, Pennsylvania from giving Mr. Garcia almost $350,000 to pay a visit to our county jail.”
Disconnected Connections: Reflections on Remote Court Watching
Court Watch volunteer Dheeksha Senthur shares her experiences observing court remotely during the winter of 2020 through the summer of 2021 – “The attorneys went back and forth before Judge Lazzara denied the motion to sever but assured that there would be precautions in place and reminders to the jury so prejudice wouldn’t hold. As the proceedings continued, the room was filled only with the voices of the judge, defense, and commonwealth attorneys. The man in the orange jumpsuit seemed like a silent spectator.“
On May 18, 2021, Allegheny County became the first county in this nation’s history to abolish solitary confinement by referendum.
However, as momentous a victory as this is, there are exceptions when solitary confinement can be used at ACJ. In this brief summary of the results of the referendum, ALC attorney Jaclyn Kurin lays out under what conditions incarcerated people may still be held in solitary as well as how we must continue to hold the ACJ accountable to the people’s will.
What happened in McKeesport? – Violence Work, Occupation, and Apartheid in Allegheny County
Suhail Gharaibeh author of Making Freedom: Abolition Geography & The Movement to Defund Pittsburgh Police (2020) shares out on the December 20th paramilitary police occupation of McKeesport, apartheid in Allegheny County, abolitionist futures and more – “How can we transform harm? That is the question we keep coming back to…we are animated by a hunger for healing, not retribution. Justice means nothing if it does not transform the original conditions from which harm emerged.”
“Surely Some Revelation is at Hand”: Allegheny County Jail’s Book Ban and the Road to Abolition
Courtney E. Colligan
Courtney E Colligan reminds us that ACJ’s book ban is just another example of apartheid punishment in Allegheny County. With limited access to tablets, unreliable wifi, and 90-minute time limits, incarcerated community members are forced to read books off of ACJ’s official catalog: a list of over 200 books written solely by white people.
The Violent Evolution of Police and Imperialist Militarized Tactics on Community Members
“Police” are evolved slave catchers. They are the militarized occupying forces of our communities that reinforce racial capitalism. They must must be abolished.
Racist Judge Tranquilli is a Symptom, not the Cause:
With protestors across the nation rising up against police brutality and the systematic targeting of Black and Brown people by law enforcement, it is time we also pay attention to the racism festering in other parts of our criminal justice system: the judiciary.
Court Watch Reflections:
Ines Borges and Maple Maloney
Our community has been completely deprived of our constitutional access since March.
Tranquilli is a racist.
The Pennsylvania Judicial Board has neither confirmed nor denied if a current investigation into Judge Mark Tranquilli is being held – despite the never-ending list of his anti-Black court room remarks coming into the spotlight…
Movement for Black Lives and Renewal Inc.
Since our publication on Renewal halfway house’s defacto private prisons conditions. Residents are still trapped inside, for upwards of 70 days now, under the same cramped, lockdown conditions that do not allow for proper social distancing measures…
Indentured to the Bondsman
Autumn Redcross with Man-E of Bukit Bail Fund
The United States and the Philippines are the only countries that allow for-profit bail companies. Charging only a percentage of the bail cost, bondsman companies post bail that is not refundable to the accused even once they show-up at court. Yet, payments to the bondsman continue until the debt is fulfilled…
There are children in jail.
Autumn Redcross with Dolly Prabhu, William Lukas
ALC Court Watch takes us to horrifying conditions of children’s jail cells in Allegheny County – and the legislation, courtroom practices, and cultural mythologies that make caging youth possible and commonplace…
Renewal Halfway House: Pittsburgh’s De Facto Private Prison
Renewal, Inc., a private company contracted by the Department of Corrections (DOC), has been keeping individuals in lockdown in cramped quarters that do not conform to social distancing standards, stripping them of basic rights, and denying them medical attention. Individuals in the halfway house are essentially being treated as prisoners despite being reentrants reintegrating into society…
Parole, Reprieve and Commutation in the Failed State
Autumn Redcross, William Lukas
As abolitionists, it may feel contradictory to lionize the radical potentials of parole, reprieve, and commutation – some of the “master’s tools” that reinforce compliance with carceral logics. Yet these existing instruments of criminal law have the capacity to save thousands of lives during this pandemic and beyond…
A Case Against Arrest Culture and Jail Time
Autumn Redcross with Quinn Cozzens
“The system is not up to ensure either of these outcomes. Judges have broad discretion in deciding whether someone will remain in jail and they, along with prosecutor and probation offices, often rely on metrics that function to keep people of color and poor people incarcerated…”
MADE FOR THIS: Transcending Isolation with BIG LOU
interview with Alexander “Big Lou” Lewis by Autumn Redcross
The shutdowns and lockdowns amidst COVID-19 are restrictive and unfamiliar. You may feel imprisoned and you may feel its pressure. Big Lou knows how to transcend confinement and because of this, can help us find our way…
He ought to be the last
Richard Lenhart was 49 years old when he died last weekend at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). Authorities deny that his death was related to COVID-19, nor that it appeared “suspicious,” though this information is impossible to assess, since the jail has not announced the cause of death. What is not questioned, however, is the fact that Lenhart died in custody. He was said to be unresponsive when called for dinner at the ACJ…
Pandemic, Black Pittsburgh and AJC
Black people in the United States are contracting and dying from complications due to coronavirus at disproportionately high rates. This is reflective of historical inequalities attributed to underlying medical conditions – emerging from embodied racism, anti-Black policies, and socioeconomic systems…