Identity & Justice

The identity and justice desk explores how the makeup of the Pittsburgh community is changing, and digs into issues of diversity and equity.

ed to Friday, April 18, 2
M. Spencer Green / AP

Attorney-client privilege was designed to protect open communication between an attorney and his or her client. What the accused says is confidential, but what happens when that privilege sends an innocent man to life in prison?

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Parents, side by side, held signs calling for Superintendent Toni Shute to resign.

“Give Shute the boot,” they chanted outside of a packed Oct. 9 Brooke County School District board meeting in Wellsburg, W.Va.

Sheila May-Stein / Twitter

Brandon Sears, 15, started playing soccer for Pittsburgh’s Obama Academy this fall. It didn’t take long for an opposing player to call him the n-word.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The discussion around race in America has evolved over the past 20 years. That’s when the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race was originally published. Now, author and researcher Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum is out with an updated edition. 

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A widely-shared Politico article used Johnstown, Pa. as a lens to showcase the loyalty of President Trump’s supporters one year after his election. But local residents are balking at the portrait of Johnstown that emerged from the story. 

Keith Srakocic / AP


Allegheny County has adopted a new comprehensive policy regarding the treatment of pregnant inmates—a result of a suit filed against the county alleging cruel and unusual punishment of five women who were placed in solitary confinement for minor infractions.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

A former Pittsburgh police sergeant has been sentenced to 27 months in prison on a conviction of violating the civil rights of drunken teenager in an assault at a high school football game two years ago.

Mark Duncan / AP

Most companies hire based on a set of traditional criteria. For police, it's often prior military or law enforcement experience, physical fitness and maybe some higher education. One department in Minnesota decided to prioritize recruiting a different kind of officer. 

Brian Bohannon / AP

The American Civil Liberties Union announced Thursday it had reached an agreement with Allegheny County regarding the solitary confinement of pregnant inmates at the county jail.

Jeff Roberson / AP

Criminal prosecutors can protect the public and build up their communities, but they can also make the system more punitive and send many more people to prison and jail. Yet for all of their importance, many prosecutors, once elected, serve for multiple terms and often run unopposed. 

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

A lawsuit filed Monday against the Allegheny County Jail and its administration claims the jail allowed a transgender inmate to be repeatedly sexually abused while she was incarcerated with male inmates.

The suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and The Law Offices of Timothy O’Brien on behalf of Jules Williams is seeking damages.

Ex-Prosecutor: Cosby Paid Accuser Millions Of Dollars

Nov 6, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

A former prosecutor claims his decision in 2005 not to charge Bill Cosby with drugging and molesting a woman led to the comedian paying his accuser a settlement "well into the millions of dollars."

Bruce Castor's assertion in a lawsuit Thursday against the accuser, Andrea Constand, and her lawyers is the first time anyone has put a value on the confidential settlement.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

In the wake of sexual harassment and assault claims against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others,  dozens of female legislators, lobbyists, consultants, and reporters have come forward in the last few weeks to talk about sexism and harassment they've dealt with in their respective statehouses.

Matt Rourke / AP

For decades in the 20th Century, the U.S. treated children differently than adults in the criminal court system -- experts at the time believed kids were inherently more capable of rehabilitation. 

An-Li Herring / 90.5 WESA


Black girls in the Pittsburgh region are 11 times more likely than white girls to have contact with the juvenile justice system, according to a 2016 study, Inequities Affecting Black Girls in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Bebeto Matthews / AP

Prosecutors moved to reinstate most of the dismissed charges Friday against 11 members of a now-closed Penn State fraternity for actions related to the death of a pledge earlier this year after a night of drinking and hazing.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Legislation is being introduced to end driver's license suspensions for people convicted of a non-vehicle related crimes.

Currently, charges including theft, purchase of alcohol and tobacco as a minor, carrying a false identification card and drug possession can result in a license suspension that can last several years after a prison sentence is carried out.

PA Capital Murder Study Ties Case Trajectory To Defendant Income

Oct 27, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

A new report on death penalty cases in Pennsylvania shows a strong tie between how a case proceeds through the justice system and who a defendant relies on for legal counsel.

Public defenders’ and court-appointed attorneys’ clients were more likely to be convicted in the hundreds of death penalty cases that comprised the study’s sample, compared to those who were able to afford their own private defense.

PIOTRUS / Wikimedia Commons

Pittsburgh’s controversial statue of composer Stephen Foster could soon be removed from its location in Schenley Plaza.

Pittsburgh’s Art Commission was tasked with deciding the fate of the statue, following public concern and petitions about the city-owned property. The piece depicts Foster seemingly transcribing the music of an enslaved black man, seated at his feet, shoeless.

At its meeting Wednesday afternoon, members of the nine-member commission agreed with the majority of public input received: that the statue is problematic, especially in its current location.

Emma Lee / WHYY

Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law protects people on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. But it doesn’t include several other categories—like ancestry, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.

Some lawmakers have been trying to change that—but not everyone is on-board.

The commonwealth’s hate crimes law didn’t always exclude protections for sexual orientation, disabilities, or gender identity. From 2002 to 2008, it protected an expanded number of groups.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Police have endured harsh public scrutiny over use of force cases, but prosecutors have also taken heat for choosing not to pursue cases when civilians are shot by police.

On this week’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, University of Pittsburgh law professor and host David Harris talks to David LaBahn, president and CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, a national association representing elected and appointed prosecutors.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Marc Levy / AP

Issues such as police use of force and mass incarceration have long fueled calls for criminal justice reform. But some have proposed going a step further by abolishing prisons altogether.

 

In his book published last year, Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform, Harvard philosophy professor Tommie Shelby addresses poverty and racial marginalization. He argues they will persist unless society tackles the underlying inequities that sustain them.

 

Study Finds Victim’s Race A Factor In Imposing Death Sentences

Oct 23, 2017
Kiichiro Sato / AP

A new study of capital punishment in Pennsylvania found that death sentences are more common when the victim is white and less frequent when the victim is black.

The report, which drew from court and prosecution records over an 11-year period, concluded that a white victim increases the odds of a death sentence by 8 percent. When the victim is black, the chances are 6 percent lower.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual assessment of LGBTQ-friendly laws.

Francisco Seco / AP Photo

A bipartisan team of three state senators has introduced legislation that would make relocation easier for victims of domestic assault within public housing.

Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia and Montgomery County), Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver, Greene and Washington Counties) and Sen. Judith Schwank (D-Berks County) are sponsoring the bill.

Jerry Sandusky Denied New Trial On Child Sex Abuse Charges

Oct 18, 2017
Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

Jerry Sandusky lost a bid Wednesday for a new trial and a chance to convince a jury he is innocent of the child sexual abuse charges that landed him a decades long prison sentence.

Judge John Foradora ruled that he was denying Sandusky's request for a new trial and dismissal of the charges.

The former Penn State assistant football coach's lawyers have 30 days to appeal the judge's decision to the Superior Court.

John Locher / AP

Gun violence kills thousands of Americans every year. It carries massive consequences in lives lost, injuries and medical treatment, but what about the economic cost – in jobs, businesses and community development? How can we measure the opportunity cost of gun violence?

Pittsburgh Diocese Settles Suit Over Birth Control Mandate

Oct 17, 2017
Andrew Rush / AP Images

The Pittsburgh and Erie Roman Catholic dioceses have settled lawsuits seeking to overturn an Affordable Care Act mandate that would have forced them to provide contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs or services as part of their employee health care plans.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

A Pennsylvania judge said Monday he will announce later this week whether to grant former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky a new trial or throw out child sexual abuse convictions against him.

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