June 12, 2020
It’s been exactly one month since our publication on Renewal halfway house’s defacto private prisons conditions. Since then, there’s been little to no changes of procedure on behalf of Renewal, Inc. to allow residents to move freely in and out of the complex. 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.
Residents have been hearing mixed accounts of how their movement will continue to be restricted, even as Allegheny County moves into the green phase of eased restrictions surrounding COVID-19. According to residents inside, Darren Hood, the case manager supervisor at Renewal, Inc. had previously told those inside that they would be allowed out yesterday (6/5/20) due to the transition to green phase. However, individuals are now being told they will not be let out so long as the protests related to George Floyd’s murder continue, though some may be let out for work or medical appointments starting next week. This policy disregards the fact that many who have been laid off due to COVID-19 will still be stuck inside. Mike Henry, a Renewal resident who was been laid off due to the pandemic, reports, “this is still not fair to the guys who don’t have a job [who are] punished and still stuck in this building.”
While we were unable to reach Morris Robinson, the regional director of the Bureau of Community Corrections in PA (Region 3 which includes Allegheny) for comment in the last article, we have now confirmed that the DOC is not only aware of Renewal’s fascistic policies, but is directly involved in enforcing the continuing lockdown and restrictions at Renewal. When contacted for comment, Morris Robinson stated that they are not letting all residents out due to the protests in order to “keep everyone safe…there is a lot of looting and things of that nature going on.”
Morris Robinson did not cite any legal reasons for why protests have any bearing on individuals’ right to be outside. Individuals at Renewal are not inmates, and have the right to freely move about during daytime hours as per Renewal’s guidelines. This is a clear suspension of the civil rights of Renewal’s residents.
In other halfway houses around the country, residents imprisoned inside have brought class action lawsuits against the Department of Corrections to address the suspension of rights and inadequate provision of resources during COVID-19.
It is not a coincidence that protests surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless Black and brown people are being used to justify the continued suppression of rights of the residents of Renewal.
It is time we recognize the complicity of Renewal, Inc., PA’s Department of Corrections, and the policing and criminal justice system in our country in stripping the rights of individuals at will — whether that be individuals locked inside halfway houses, trapped in prisons and jails, or being brutalized by police in the streets.
Sofia Huang is a rising second-year doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at Duquesne University. She is the author of last month’s Court Watch article, “RENEWAL HALFWAY HOUSE: PITTSBURGH’S DE FACTO PRIVATE PRISON”.