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  • Cohort 2021

    Abolitionist Law Center

    Using Technology to Advocate for, Organize, and Divert Probation-Impacted People in Detention

    Allegheny County, PA

    Most people in the Allegheny County Jail have not been convicted of a crime and are there because of “unbailable detention,” meaning they are either awaiting trial and cannot pay bail or are being detained for an alleged parole or probation violation. These jail stays often last weeks or months, causing disastrous effects for people who are incarcerated, their families and other loved ones, and their communities, and particularly for Black residents, who are substantially more likely to be arrested, charged, and have monetary bail imposed.

    With Catalyst Grant funding, Abolitionist Law Center partnered with a data consultant who built a tool that automatically scraped information from the online dockets of probation-violation hearings in Allegheny County dating back to 2000. With those data, the team analyzed trends in demographic characteristics, average probation length, the most common reasons for probation violations, judges’ discretionary decisions, and racial disparities across those indicators. The center will pair those findings with observations of court proceedings to develop diversion opportunities for people in the Allegheny County Jail. It will also use the information to fuel litigation, public education, community organizing, and public campaigns that advocate for improved jail conditions.

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