Special Committee: Criminal Justice Reform Progress Panel
In response to the Criminal Justice Task Force’s recommendation, in 2017, the County Executive appointed and charged the progress panel to act under the auspices of the Institute of Politics. Progress panel members are listed below. Eight of its nine members were drawn from the membership of the task force, and the co-chairs of that task force, Mark Nordenberg and Frederick Thieman, agreed to co-chair the progress panel.
The group has been meeting on a quarterly basis to review progress in implementing the task force’s recommendations and advancing its guiding principles, providing a new measure of accountability and a new source of information. The panel, in conjunction with the Allegheny County Criminal Justice Coordinator, publishes relevant information about the system to encourage the ongoing development of creative and innovative mechanisms to improve fairness and effectiveness.
The Progress Panel is co-chaired by:
- Mark Nordenberg, Chair, Insitute of Politics and Chancellor Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh
- Fred Thieman, Henry Buhl Jr. Chair for Civic Leadership, The Buhl Foundation
Click here for a complete list of committee members.
The following publications issued by the Institute are related to the focus areas of the Progress Panel:
- Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Improving Incarceration Policies and Practices in Allegheny County (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2019)
- Incarceration in Allegheny County: An Initiative Advancing the Criminal Justice Task Force report of 2016 (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2018)
- Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Improving Incarceration Policies and Practices in Allegheny County (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2016)
- Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Allegheny County Courts and Probation (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2016)
- Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Allegheny County Jail (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2016)
- Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Allegheny County Law Enforcement (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2016)
- Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Allegheny County Pretrial Decisions (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2016)
- Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Allegheny County Prosecution and Defense (University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, 2016)
Addressing Racial Disparities within the Allegheny County Criminal Justice System
Following the killing of George Floyd, as well as the deaths of other Black citizens at the hands of police, the failures of our criminal justice system once again were brought to the fore and sparked nationwide protests. These most recent tragedies underscore the importance of the IOP’s initiative to examine the disparate impact and treatment of people of color by the criminal justice system. Although making up just 13% of the population of Allegheny County, Black people account for 66% of the jail population. Similarly, the criminal justice system is costly for Allegheny County taxpayers, accounting for 42% of the county’s general funds, including nearly $90 million annually for the jail.
For more than five years, the IOP — in partnership with Allegheny County and the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania and with generous foundation support, particularly from the Heinz Endowments — has worked to advance criminal justice reform in Allegheny County. The overarching goal of these ongoing initiatives is to find ways to improve Allegheny County’s criminal justice system so that it is “fairer and less costly, without compromising public safety.”
Over the course of several months and in partnership with experts and input from community members, the IOP developed a research approach to examine racial disparities in the Allegheny County criminal justice system that is grounded on the principles of evidence-based data, community engagement, diversity and cultural competence, and the development of actionable policy recommendations. Following an intensive review process conducted by a team of criminologists, legal experts, community members, and internal system stakeholders, the RAND Corporation was selected to conduct the quantitative analysis of disparate impact and treatment and RTI International was selected to conduct qualitative research that will include a thorough review of programs, policies, and services in the system.
The project design includes a holistic and mixed methods approach to understanding the policies, practices, and outcomes at key decision-making points within the system that may drive racial disparities. It begins with an assessment of policies, practices, and services within the Allegheny County criminal justice system to determine their potential impact on increasing racial disparities. Following this assessment, researchers will quantitatively analyze a broad data set focusing on decisions made during stops and arrests, charging, pretrial, sentencing, and probation and parole. Each area will be examined to better elucidate decision-making within them and to identify opportunities within each phase to alleviate disparities. In addition to a quantitative examination, the IOP embedded a robust qualitative aspect into the project to better understand the lived experiences of those who have been impacted by the system including formerly incarcerated individuals, family members, and victims along with the perspectives and norms of those people who work within it. Going even further, intersectional data will be collected to understand key factors contributing to involvement in the system such as education level, socioeconomic status, employment status, neighborhood of origin, gender, and age.
The project will take place throughout 2021 and culminate in the full release of data in May of 2022. Along that time, the IOP will address quarterly findings with our partners to make improvements throughout the system. Jurisdictions across the country have continued to struggle to make progress toward reducing racial disparities in county criminal justice systems and jails.
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.
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: