The "old" Allegheny County Prison, a historical landmark, was designed by H.H. Richardson and opened in 1884. Despite its architectural significance, the jail's physical plant embodied an operational philosophy (the Auburn model) that was outdated by the time it was opened. The old jail is located on Ross Street, between Fifth and Forbes Avenues in downtown Pittsburgh. A footbridge, known as the "Bridge of Sighs," connects the old jail and the courthouse.
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 which had cells facing each other, ringing an open space. The jail had tiers (called blocks) five stories tall.
Facing crowding problems and space limitations, the Court ordered that Allegheny County could not accept any more prisoners because the facility could not meet constitutional standards. Ultimately, the county constructed a new facility to consolidate the incarcerated population into a building of adequate size, 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 has been converted into a combined home of the juvenile and family sections of the Common Pleas Court. The restored and readapted facility has won many national and international design awards.