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“The Uncounted Dead”

Excellence in Opinion Writing

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2023

Author(s): Jeffery Gerritt


In a series of authoritative and independently reported editorials, Jeffrey Gerritt zeroed in on the deadly and dysfunctional conditions at Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County Jail.  

His work led to systemic changes to strengthen oversight of the jail, reduce deaths, improve accountability, reform housing polices and expand drug treatment. One of Gerritt’s editorials resulted in the release of a prisoner who had been in jail for more than a year for breaking probation. The editorials also called attention to the lack of drug treatment in the jail and contributed to the expansion of methadone access to treat opioid addiction. 

Gerritt, who was new to the job as editorial page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, quickly immersed himself into the topic after learning the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union and Abolitionist Law Center considered the Allegheny County Jail, where 17 inmates had died over a two-year period, to be the worst in the state. 

He arranged for a tour of the jail with its warden, met with county officials and talked with advocacy groups, members of the jail oversight board and families of prisoners. 

The editorials revealed the jail’s death rates were more than twice the national average, a fact the warden denied until a follow-up editorial detailed how the federal government calculates jail death rates.  

Gerritt pushed the county’s top ranking elected official – the county executive – to take a more active role. His advocacy resulted in the county contracting with the National Commission of Correctional Health Care for an independent review of the inmates’ deaths.  

The county executive is also working with two state legislators on a bill to establish statewide review panels of fatalities in all 73 of Pennsylvania’s county jails.