Criminal Justice

Creating a Path Forward to Reduce Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System in Allegheny County

Over the past year, the Institute and its Criminal Justice Progress Panel, which was charged by the County Executive with monitoring progress in implementing recommended changes and reporting to the public on that progress, engaged in a series of initiatives to advance criminal justice reform efforts. The Panel’s latest project, funded by the Heinz Endowments, examines policies, practices, and outcomes at key decision-making points that may contribute to racial disparities, using both quantitative and qualitative analysis. The IOP commissioned research of the Allegheny County criminal justice system will begin August 1, 2020.

The demographic composition of those incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail is one such example of a racial disparity found within the criminal justice system. Black men in Allegheny County are booked into jail at nearly twice the national rate for Black men, which is itself six times higher than the national rate for White men. Although they make up just 13 percent of the population of Allegheny County, Black people constitute 60 percent of the population of the Allegheny County Jail. 

While Allegheny County’s disparity rates exceed national averages, the overall problem of racial disparities within county criminal justice systems and jails is not unique, as jurisdictions across the country continue to struggle to make progress toward reducing racial disparities. In partnership with Allegheny County, the next phase of the Institute’s work will examine the issue of racial disparities in Allegheny County’s criminal justice system. This project aims to better understand racial disparities within the criminal justice system by examining the system's policies, practices, and outcomes at key decision-making points that may contribute to racial disparities.

Jail Forum

In December 2019, the Institute sponsored “Repurposing Jails to Meet 21st Century Needs,” a conference devoted to promoting national best practices in jail use and programming. The conference featured national experts who examined the best practices of New York City and other jurisdictions in repurposing the use of jails, redesigning reentry programming, and addressing racial disparities. Videos and additional resources from the jail forum can be found here.

2019 Progress Panel Report

In September 2019, the Progress Panel released its latest report, “Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Imrpvoing Incareceation Policies and Practices in Allegheny County,” highlighting local criminal justice reform advances.The report outlines the impact of the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge initiative in Allegheny County. Through the Challenge, the county has committed to achieving a 20 percent reduction in its jail population by September 2020 and a reduction in racial and ethnic disparities throughout the system. Also described is the Heinz Endowment’s generous commitment to criminal justice reform through $10 million in grantmaking, including generous support of the work of the Institute in this area. Finally, the report examines a local initiative funded by the Buhl Foundation and launched in Pittsburgh’s Northside neighborhoods, which approaches criminal justice through a community lens by means of relationship-based policing, public safety partnerships, and the establishment of neighborhood safety centers.

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