Political Forum Follow-Up/Liv Is Not New to Social Justice Organizing
"As a Black woman running in a high-profile election, I find myself having to stop others from erasing my work. Yes, even to those that were standing right next to me when I was doing it lol. It's like yes, we were there but, prove it or say it again (insert air quotes). I am not new to this, I'm true to this. Put some respect on my NAME (no lol because am serious)".
Barbara Daly Danko Political Forum Follow Up/Liv's Advocacy
This past Saturday my colleagues and I participated in the Barbara Daly Danko Political Forum. As you know there are seven candidates. Therefore, not everyone had the opportunity to be asked every question. Moreover, there is a limited timeframe to answer the questions (2 minutes). Due to the structure, I wasn’t asked the question about ACJ and went last when we were discussing Shuman. Therefore, I wanted to expound more on my answers and the work I have been doing advocating for those in the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ).
The purpose of having a juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate. These are children and we should treat them with the necessary care. It should be viewed as a way to rehabilitate, provide guidance and treatment instead of a punishment. Placing juveniles in prison for a crime does not end their criminal behavior. We need rehabilitation focused on treatment. The goal is to keep the youth home with their families, along with the necessary resources.
I will push for DHS to implement holistic programs that involve working with all the systems that affect a child’s life. From their family to the school and community. Moreover, it’s no secret that a majority of these youth are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). We must have culturally competent services that are implemented utilizing trauma informed care. I will push to create a youth advisory board to guide juvenile justice in our County. The board will include youth who have been in the system and 1-2 adult BIPOC community leaders, handpicked by the youth. It can serve as a recommendation and guidance for juvenile justice.
Additionally, we are sending a lot of juveniles to other counties, and it costs us. We send money to other counties, when that money can come to this region to support our youth. It’s less about us making money, and more about keeping the funding in Allegheny County to give our kids a fighting chance. People profit from incarceration. That’s not what I am promoting. As a Black person, woman, Mother, grandmother and activist with a demonstrated record of public service it baffles me that it was even a thought. Yes, I know this is a political campaign and some folks “play the game”. However, this is not a game to me. I have been in the streets organizing. Sacrificed time away from my family, endured death threats and various near death experiences during protest/actions. My record speaks for itself (no matter who tries to erase it). Nevertheless, I digress…...
My vision for this county is to create a system of justice that supports rehabilitation and reintegration. Keeping youth here does that and allows us to build a county that gets people the support they need. A full integration of DHS services and community participation will have a positive impact on the way we approach juvenile justice in Allegheny County. My work advocating for issues on a Countywide level doesn't stop with juvenile justice.
I have been working to push for change in ACJ since before becoming a Councilwoman. I worked with Sisters Pittsburgh to demand that Transgender and Nonbinary people be housed in a separate pod at the jail. We showed up meeting after meeting to make these demands. We highlighted stories of actual Trans women who had been in the county jail and suffered abuse from being housed with men. Finally, Judge Cashman called a special meeting to discuss and find solutions. We organized, and the room was full of the LGBTQ community and allies like me. As folks shared their stories and experience and we demanded accountability, Judge Cashman became frustrated and walked out of the meeting and then resigned as Chair of the Jail Oversight Board. We saw this as a win because before our push and attention, the board met once a month for an hour and there was rarely any action taken. Once Judge Cashman resigned the meetings became longer, and more issues are being addressed at the meetings.
In addition, I have organized various actions to call attention to the way people are treated inside ACJ. During COVID-19 I served as a Community Organizer, with social justice group Take Action Advocacy Group (TAAG), to advocate for testing and social distancing in ACJ.
We also created a policing coalition called the Policing in Allegheny County Coalition (PACC) and gave out COVID-19 supplies to people when they were released from ACJ.
As the next County Executive, I would commit to obtaining new leadership and reforming ACJ to make it a more habitable as well as humane place for our incarcerated population. This starts with firing the present warden. The deaths in the jail over the past two years are devastating and I believe the loss of these lives was in most cases, avoidable. I will take my seat on the Jail Oversight Board in order to work on actionable solutions and to strengthen community partnerships with the jail. I would use my seat on the board and my position to foster more transparency from jail administration and push for accountability.