Local Pennsylvania Voters Ban Solitary Confinement and No-Knock Warrants
by David M. Reutter
Residents of Allegheny County voted to restrict the use of solitary confinement. The ballot measure was overwhelmingly approved during a May 18, 2021 election.
PLN has previously reported on the brutalizing by guards and the improper use of solitary confinement within the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). [See PLN, Sept 2016, p. 27]. Voters apparently decided it was time for a change. Nearly 70% of them, or more than 166,000 people, supported the ballot measure to ban the use of solitary confinement within ACJ except in certain circumstances. Voters said such confinement may be used only in cases of lockdowns, medical or safety emergencies, and protective separation requests.
Officials used solitary confinement as punishment whenever a detainee violated jail rules. “It’s inhuman,” said Brandi Fisher, who heads the Alliance for Police Accountability (APA) in Pittsburgh.
On the same day as the vote on ending solitary in the county, Pittsburgh voters banned no-knock warrants in the city. About 81% of voters, or more than 49,000 people, supported the measure. That approval amends the city charter to ban police from serving a search warrant without announcing themselves.
The measure is similar to laws enacted in other jurisdictions in the wake of the death of Breonna Taylor. Taylor was killed in Louisville, Kentucky after midnight on March 13, 2020. Officers broke her door down without announcing themselves. Taylor’s boyfriend, a registered gun owner, fired a warning shot, hitting one officer in the leg. The officers returned fire with at least 22 shots. Taylor, an EMT, was hit eight times and died minutes later.
Prosecutors found that the officers were justified in using force. One officer, however, was fired and charged with wanton endangerment because he blindly fired through a window and door.
According to Allegheny County District Attorney spokesman Mike Manko, Pittsburgh police do not use no-knock warrants because there is no way to request such warrants in Pennsylvania.
Voters were united in ending both these public safety measures related to local police and prisons. “There was an overwhelming response from people who wanted these to be passed,” said Fisher.