History of Allegheny County Jail

The "old" Allegheny County Prison, an historical landmark, was designed by H.H. Richardson and opened in 1884. Despite its architectural significance the old Jail's physical plant embodied an operational philosophy that was outdated by the time it was opened, the "Auburn" model. The Auburn model had rows of cells set back to back, separated by "waterways" for utilities. The cells faced narrow walkways as opposed to the Pennsylvania System that had cells facing each other, ringing an open space. Our Jail had tiers (called blocks) five stories tall. Instituted in New York State's Auburn Prison in the 1840's, the model's correctional philosophy was austere and stern, to give opportunity for "reflection on past deeds in silence." It was abandoned as a correctional philosophy long before Richardson employed the physical embodiment of it in the design of our Jail.

The County struggled throughout the 1980's to comply with a wide-ranging Federal Court Order that addressed crowding problems, space limitations and other issues. In 1990, the Court ordered the County to accept no more prisoners at the old jail because the facility could not meet constitutional standards and ordered the County to submit plans for construction of secure detention facilities. Ultimately, the County then embarked on constructing a new facility to consolidate all population in a building of adequate size, and designed in accordance with modern correctional philosophy. The new jail opened in May 1995, launching a new corrections era in Allegheny County.

The old Jail is located on Ross Street, between Fifth and Forbes Avenues in downtown Pittsburgh. It now houses the juvenile and family sections of the Common Pleas Court. A footbridge, known as the "Bridge of Sighs," connects the old Jail and the Courthouse. For more information on these facilities, please refer to the Courthouse and Jail page.