Allegheny County Jail Health Justice Project to Document Abuse via Survey and Documentary Film

May 31, 2016
By: Angelica Walker

“Our county jail is currently in a crisis… People are not getting the medicine that they need. People are not getting the care that they deserve. And on top of that, people’s human rights are being violated by guards that are abusive and negligent.”

Since launching last year after the death of Frank Smart, the Allegheny County Jail Health Justice Project has received calls from more than 20 people seeking justice for their incarcerated loved ones.

 “HIV/AIDS medication, cancer treatment, diabetes insulin, anti-seizure medication, epilepsy treatment, and more have been denied to people. This violates their constitutional rights for care and medical attention, and is inhumane treatment of our fellow community members,” said Health Justice Project member Julia Johnson at a recent press conference.

Many of the community members that have called the Health Justice Project for help reported being initially ignored by jail staff. Demetrius Pirle, who lost almost 50 pounds and contracted shingles and a kidney infection after just one month at the jail, was denied a trip to the hospital. When Health Justice Project members began calling the jail to advocate for Pirle, ACJ staff responded, “Tell your people to stop calling, we will get to you when we can.”

 After five days of calling, Pirle was finally transferred to a hospital. But unfortunately, according to the Health Justice Project, the jail continues to get away with countless instances of injustice and negligence behind closed doors. Many abused inmates have no friends or family to advocate for them, and their stories go unheard.

That’s why the Health Justice Project is working towards systematic changes at the Allegheny County Jail. The group is launching a new Documentation Project, and is looking to compile more than 200 stories of abuse through online surveys and a documentary film.

According to the Health Justice Project website, “Our hope is that these collected accounts can bring awareness to how serious and widespread medical neglect is at ACJ. We intend to use this information to motivate the jail to change corrupted leadership and health care services, and bring forth accountability for past medical neglect.”

Incarcerated people and their loved ones are invited to take the survey here. Participants are encouraged to give their contact information if they would like to appear in the documentary film, but may also participate anonymously.

For more information or a paper version of the survey, contact the Health Justice Project at or 412-256-8307.

Angelica Walker is an intern for The New People covering LGBTQ rights and criminal justice reform. She is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying social work, legal studies, writing, and political science.

Categories: News

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