Inmate’s death the focus of Downtown protest

November 23, 2010

Some 20 people from a coalition of organizations staged a Downtown protest today, demanding changes to policies related to incarcerated women and saying a recent lawsuit stemming from the death of Amy Lynn Gillespie revealed the need for reform.

Ms. Gillespie, of South Fayette and, later, Knoxville, died Jan. 13, at age 27, along with her fetus after she developed pneumonia while in Allegheny County Jail, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last week. She was transferred from work release to jail because she became pregnant, in violation of the terms of her stay in a halfway house, according to the complaint. She had pleaded guilty to retail theft, had not complied with some terms of her probation, and was arrested for prostitution.

“For her to die having been an inmate in our jail, to [which] she was returned because she became pregnant … is totally paternalistic and insane,” said Donna Fisher, a Downtown resident and retired librarian who joined around 20 people in marching from the Allegheny County Courthouse to the jail.

The march was organized by New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice. Joining the effort were the Human Rights Coalition, The Birth Circle, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Women and Girls Foundation and the Women’s Law Project.

Women and Girls Foundation CEO Heather Arnet said that jail Warden Ramon Rustin has worked with similar coalitions to resolve issues like the shackling of women during childbirth, which was discontinued.

She said the Gillespie lawsuit “raises so many questions about what the quality of care was while she was in jail.” She also said that the circumstances of Ms. Gillespie’s return to jail raise the question of whether no-sexual-contact conditions for work release may be inherently discriminatory, since only women display outward evidence of intercourse.

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