Jail Oversight Board members and jail administration abruptly leave meeting 

Community members honored deceased incarcerated persons through song 

By Matt Glover

Yesterday’s Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board meeting ended early with Judge Elliot Howsie, who led the meeting, walking out to a rendition of “Mama, Mama, Can’t You See?”

After in-person public comments, the third item on the agenda, four members of the public lead the others through song as Howsie replied, “Can we call the meeting? I’m calling the meeting.”

County Manager Stephen Pilarski, who attends JOB meetings on behalf of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald despite him being required by law to attend, Sheriff Kevin Kraus, citizen member Gayle Moss and jail administration, including Warden Orlando Harper, followed.

A presenter shows a pie chart showing results of the ACJ Correction Officer Job Satisfaction Survey to Judge Howsie as he looks away.
A presenter shows a pie chart displaying results of the ACJ Correction Officer Job Satisfaction Survey as board members look away.

Howsie declined to comment.

“The board met and adjourned the meeting. Jail administration left when the meeting adjourned. We don’t have any additional comment,” Jail Spokesperson Jesse Geleynse wrote in an email.

Board members Judge Beth Lazzara, Controller Corey O’Connor, citizen members Abass Kamara and Terri Klein, and County Councilwoman Bethany Hallam left because the board no longer could proceed without the minimum number of members for a quorum. 

Four public comments were submitted online, but Howsie chose not to read them to save time.

“We had a whole agenda,” Hallam said, “then Judge Howsie, who thinks he’s the chair of this board but is not, decided to adjourn the meeting.”

The procedure for adjourning requires one board member to motion for adjournment and another to second that motion, according to Hallam. There was no second.

“Not a single member of the board would adjourn,” Hallam said. “He asked them individually…and nobody would, so he was frustrated and just got up and left like a child.”

Four community members rise and begin a rendition of “Mama, Mama Can’t You See?” They sing one verse, and the audience echoes it back.

Before Howsie and the jail administration left the meeting, Sharon Bonavoglia, representing the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN), used her public comment time to urge the JOB to enact procedures that help incarcerated persons experiencing medical or mental health crises to receive medical attention more quickly.

She then asked attendees to rise and honor the names of 21 deceased incarcerated persons. Members of the public held up paper signs with the name, age and date of death of men who died following their incarceration at the jail. Two men died within the last month. The Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism has been diligently tracking and reporting the jail’s death rate since April 2020.

Everyone in the room stood except jail administration.

After the public comment portion of the meeting ended, community members started singing and board members walked out.

Hallam said community members had a right to demonstrate and memorialize those who had died at the jail, even if it is through song. 

“The person who adjourned a meeting because he could not deal with people exercising their First Amendment right to protest is responsible for putting people in prison for the rest of their lives,” Hallam said.

Photography and story by Matt Glover, a Pittsburgh Media Partnership editorial intern. He is a senior at Slippery Rock University.

This story has been updated with remarks from the jail spokesperson and Judge Elliot Howsie and to clarify that members started singing after the public comment portion of the meeting ended.