Why Are Mortality Rates High in Pittsburgh’s Jail?


Two Pittsburgh inmates complained to authorities about the death in the Allegheny County Jail of Gary Miller, 54, of liver disease “all alone in a urine-stained room.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that while Allegheny Correctional Health Services, a nonprofit offshoot of the county, has handled health care at the jail, at $12 million a year, the jail has been one of the dozen deadliest among the nation’s 50 largest county jails from 2000 through 2007.

Its five deaths in each of 2009 and 2010 gave it a mortality rate more than twice the state average. “I’m not sure why that is,” said agency head Bruce Dixon. An outsized number of the deaths are suicides, he noted. Another issue is release of terminally ill inmates. The jails in Orange County, Ca. have some of the nation’s lowest mortality rates. The deputy director of that county’s health agency, Kathryn Wild, a registered nurse, believes in “compassionate release” of sick inmates to home detention, and will sometimes spend money to hospitalize terminal inmates.

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