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Inmates in Allegheny County Jail to receive new uniforms, pay for work

PITTSBURGH — A budget surpassing $1 billion was approved Tuesday by Allegheny County Council, and not all are in favor of funds now set to benefit inmates within the county’s jail.

“People in jail, incarcerated people, deserve to be treated with dignity, they deserve to get proper treatment, but at the same time, they don’t deserve to have unfettered access to taxpayer dollars,” said Sam DeMarco, Council Member At-Large.

DeMarco, a Republican, was among five members to vote against the 2024 budget, in large part because of the new perks for incarcerated individuals.

As part of the new budget, about $1 million is set to pay inmates who perform jobs within the jail, from cooking to serving food to cleaning. Working inmates will receive $10 per day, which can go toward their dependents.

Democrat Bethany Hallam, Council Member At-Large, pushed for the measure.

“These are jobs that, if not for that slave labor, would be going to community members, would be good-paying union jobs, but instead, we’re exploiting one of our most vulnerable populations,” Hallam told Channel 11.

DeMarco countered by stating that inmates who work are not forced to do so but rather volunteer for jobs, and receive other benefits, including meals, healthcare, medications, and hygiene products, which taxpayers fund.

Channel 11 spoke with two Allegheny County residents for their takes, and both stated that they are in favor of working inmates receiving pay.

“That gives inmates something to work toward,” one man said.

Both residents, however, stated that they are not in support of another piece of the budget, which provides a half million in funds to provide inmates with a more neutral-colored uniform.

The current uniform is red. Hallam says that research indicates the color prompts a “physiological response for folks, it raises folks’ blood pressure and heartrate, it creates anxiety, leads to folks being aggressive.”

One resident told us she’d prefer to see that funding go elsewhere. “There’s other areas that we need cash for other situations.”

DeMarco responded by saying “if you don’t like wearing red uniforms, don’t commit crimes.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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