“…the Oversight Board is being kept on a ‘need to know’ basis by the County administration, receiving more rhetoric and talking points than actual information.”
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner issued the following statement regarding the cancellation of the County Jail Oversight Board meeting previously scheduled for April 2:
While the COVID-19 pandemic has necessarily caused disruption in so many areas, including government, it is absolutely clear that where health and welfare are at stake we must continue our work with more vigilance and urgency than perhaps ever before. Cancelling the April meeting of the Jail Oversight Board when inmates and employees are at their most vulnerable erodes the public’s trust and expectation that this body is providing an independent monitor of what is happening inside the Jail.
Let’s be clear: Any outbreak or spread of the virus at the Jail doesn’t just affect those within its walls, but our entire community. I am terribly concerned that the Oversight Board is being kept on a “need to know” basis by the County administration, receiving more rhetoric and talking points than actual information.
Beyond my concerns about the Oversight Board as an institution, I remain terribly distressed for inmates and staff in the Jail, particularly since the Oversight Board has not been made aware of any plan to address a COVID outbreak, including the capacity of the Jail’s infirmary and the adequacy of its equipment; the social distancing and disinfection measures being taken; the inmate census by pod following recent inmate releases; how any pregnant inmates are being accommodated; what services the Jail is able to offer those dealing with addiction; and how the Jail is handling any of these issues without a Medical Director or Director of Nursing on staff. These are questions I would have asked at the upcoming Board meeting had it occurred. I’m sure other members had further questions.With so many in government and every other sector carrying out important business remotely and electronically, there is no reason a meeting could not have been held without putting any board or staff member at any risk.
It is disappointing that at a time when the need for public confidence is greatest, the County administration has decided that an entity charged by statute with ensuring health and safety is kept in the dark. Regardless, I and other Oversight Board members will continue to raise these issues and demand answers.