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PINJ event to launch new book, ‘Death in Custody,’ at Trace Brewing

by Jody DiPerna

On Thursday, September 28 at 6:30 p.m., Roger A. Mitchell, Jr and Jay Aronson, authors of “Death in Custody” will read from their new book at Trace Brewing in Bloomfield. Brittany Hailer, director of the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, will moderate a discussion afterwards with the authors, as well as Jaclyn Kurin, an attorney at the Abolitionist Law Center and MAN-E, the Advocacy and Policy Civic Engagement Coordinator for 1 Hood Media.

“Death in Custody:  How America Ignores the Truth and What We Can Do About It” will be published on September 5 by Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Dr. Roger Mitchell is the Chief Medical Examiner for Washington, DC. Jay Aronson is a Professor of Science, Technology, and Society in the History Department at Carnegie Mellon University and is the founder director of the Center for Human Rights Science at CMU

“Death in Custody” has been years in the works and is built on the understanding that the United States significantly undercounts the number of individuals who die while in law enforcement custody each year. Custody is the broad term for individuals who died during an encounter with police on the street, during transport, or while in jails, prisons, or detention centers. 

Through historical analysis, Mitchell and Aronson demonstrate how the government at all levels has intentionally avoided this reporting:  We still don’t have an accurate count on how many people die in custody each year. 

In Allegheny County, PINJ Director Hailer has reported on the deaths of incarcerated people at the Allegheny County Jail since April, 2020. Recently, there have been an additional two deaths of incarcerated people held at Renewal Center in downtown Pittsburgh. Several of these deaths were not reported to the Jail Oversight Board until after the stories broke. 

The event at Trace will be the Pittsburgh launch of Mitchell and Aronson’s book. Lea Bickerton, owner of The Tiny Bookstore will be on-site selling copies of “Death in Custody,” and more books that directly address the criminal justice system and mass incarceration. The event is an opportunity to learn more about the work that Mitchell and Aronson have done, as well as speak with local advocates about incarceration locally. 

Hailer began investigating the death of Daniel Pastorek, a 63-year old man who died in custody at the Allegheny County Jail in November of 2020. In order to understand the context and underlying causes of his death, she requested a copy of the autopsy report. This week,  the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled in Hailer’s behalf — Allegheny County was ordered to release the autopsy report. This single case illustrates the lack of transparency and the exhausting labor required to obtain a single autopsy report for a person in custody. 

PINJ has been brought in to host the event at Trace because of our dedication to telling stories around incarceration. Donations can be made at the event to keep powering the work that PINJ does. 

Register (for free!) here.