The Justice Department announced today that it has closed its investigation of State Correctional Institution – Pittsburgh after the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) significantly improved security policies and practices at the prison and throughout the Pennsylvania prison system. The reforms are intended to protect prisoners, especially gay, transgender and gender nonconforming prisoners, from harm and discrimination. The PDOC has also assured the United States that by no later than Dec. 1, 2014, it will have the prison audited and deemed fully compliant with the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape promulgated under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA).
The department opened this investigation in December 2011, after local authorities initiated criminal prosecutions against seven of the prison’s officers for assaulting and sexually abusing vulnerable prisoners. In May 2013, the department notified Pennsylvania officials that while significant measures had already been undertaken to address the misconduct that had occurred, more needed to be done. Since then, Pennsylvania has worked cooperatively to address the department’s concerns and has made substantial progress toward improving the safety of its prisoners. These improvements include statewide reforms to oversight and accountability measures, abuse and misconduct investigations, prisoner screening procedures and the grievance system. The Pittsburgh prison has also improved the way it monitors its inmates and secures its physical plant.
“We commend the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for its commitment to improving security policies and practices in Pittsburgh and its other facilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the department’s Civil Rights Division. “These improvements, especially those concerning PREA, provide a clear path forward to ensuring the safety of prisoners in their care.”
“I am very pleased with the outcome of this investigation,” added U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton for the Western District of Pennsylvania. “Correctional facilities have a constitutional obligation to adequately protect prisoners from harm. The positive result of this investigation demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that the constitutional rights of all citizens are protected.”
The department initiated this investigation under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities. This investigation was conducted by Special Litigation Counsel Avner Shapiro, Trial Attorneys Kyle Smiddie and Aaron Zisser, Analyst Gary Graca of the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division and Amie Murphy with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Secretary John Wetzel and his staff at the PDOC have fully cooperated with this investigation. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.