Criminal Justice

In the fall of 2015, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald asked the Institute to assemble a group of distinguished civic leaders to examine ways to transform the county’s criminal justice system into a “fairer and less costly [institution], without compromising public safety.” The Institute subsequently convened the Criminal Justice Task Force, consisting of 40 regional figures in the fields of criminal justice, academia, and community leadership; Mark Nordenberg, Chair of the Institute of Politics and Chancellor Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh, and Fred Thieman, The Henry Buhl Jr. Chair for Civic Leadership, The Buhl Foundation served as the cochairs of the task force. Task force members met monthly for one year, working with national consultants to examine all aspects of the criminal justice system, including policing, pre-trial services, prosecution and defense, imprisonment, and courts and probation.

This collaborative examination and deliberation resulted in the development of the Institute’s report: “Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Improving Incarceration Policies and Practices in Allegheny County.” Guided by six ethical principles, the report makes a series of recommendations designed to ensure the fairness and cost-effectiveness of the county’s criminal justice system while maintaining a commitment to public safety. The report examines the dramatic growth of national and local incarceration rates in recent decades even as crime rates have fallen, and highlights the large number of individuals detained prior to trial through the setting of monetary bonds, which often keep low-risk defendants behind bars. The Institute’s report also addresses the criminal justice system’s disproportionate impact on Black and Latino populations and people living in poverty. Building upon improvements already achieved by criminal justice professionals in Allegheny County, the task force’s report advances recommendations to create a fairer and more equitable system that allocates taxpayer dollars efficiently, effectively, and humanely, without compromising public safety.

Next Steps

Progress Panel

Embracing the first three recommendations of that earlier report, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald appointed a progress panel, chaired by Mark Nordenberg and Fred Thieman, which has been tasked with reviewing and publicly reporting on progress in implementing the 2016 report’s recommendations. The County Executive also recruited Ed Mulvey, a distinguished Pitt professor of psychiatry with extensive expertise related to the criminal justice system, to serve in the newly created post of Criminal Justice Coordinator, and he directed the County’s technology team to enhance existing information systems by developing new dashboards that can provide “real time” access to key data metrics essential to nurturing and measuring progress in the criminal justice system. The Progress Panel's reports can be found here: 

Jail Forum

On December 5, 2019, the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics held a special program entitled “Repurposing Jails to Meet 21st Century Community Needs.” The all-day forum featured respected national leaders whose thoughts stimulated and informed local discussions regarding the best use of the Allegheny County jail to preserve public safety while enhancing fairness, improving outcomes and reducing costs. By reviewing the ways in which space currently is utilized in our county jail, Allegheny County would join a growing number of jurisdictions committed to goals for their jails that include, but go beyond, secure incarceration. During the forum, national experts addressed such critical topics as the purpose and demographics of jails, practices for combating both high levels of recidivism and racial disparities, and modern trends in jail use. Additional information on forum speakers and presentations can be found here


Resource Information

CRSP Lecture

On January 24, 2017, Mark Nordenberg, Fred Thieman, and Ed Mulvey presented on the work of the Criminal Justice Taskforce as part of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work's Center on Race and Social Problems Spring 2018 Speaker Series. The trio of speakers were introduced by Dean Larry Davis and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. During the lecture, the speakers discussed the need for criminal justice refom, the guiding princples of the task force, and the progress already occuring in Allegheny County to implement the task force's recommendations. The recommendations that had been made and the directions that were being taken were received with high levels of enthusiasm.

The PowerPoint presentation from the lecture can be found below:

News Coverage

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • Report: Too many being sent to Allegheny County Jail (November 16, 2016) – Link
  • When jail fails: The push for alternatives must get stronger (November 20, 2016) – Link
  • Use resources to point people in the right direction (November 23, 2016) – Link


  • Policy Group Calls for Curtailed Use of Bail In Allegheny County (November 17, 2016) - Link

Associated Press

  • The Washington Times (November 17, 2016) (Washington, DC) – Link  
  • Tribune Review (November 17, 2016) – Link  
  • Observer Reporter (November 17, 2016) (Washington, PA) – Link

The Pitt News

  • Local prison system in dire need of reform (November 17, 2016) – Link
  • Report shows rise in inmates, more black inmates in Allegheny County Jail (November 17, 2016) – Link  

Pittsburgh Business Times

  • Mark Nordenberg: Making criminal justice fairer, less costly (November 17, 2016) - Link

Pittsburgh Courier

  • Report: Too many low risk inmates jailed (November 23, 2016) - Link
  • Promote service, not sentencing…Where is the arrest diversion program? (December 2, 2016) – Link