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Pa. defends not telling families when inmates are sick


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Your Postmaster: Tom Lisi
January 19, 2021
Withholding information, follow the money, delayed exams, declining enrollment, stolen laptop, Google Doodle, and sea shanties. It's Tuesday.

The state Department of Corrections has doubled down on its policy not to always inform families of inmates who are sickened or killed by the coronavirus, saying it’s the responsibility of inmates to ensure their emergency contacts are complete and accurate, Spotlight PA reports.

Last month, reporter Joseph Darius Jaafari found that while the department has the power to decide when to release medical information, some family members of those who are incarcerated said they were kept in the dark as their loved ones fell ill and, in some cases, died.

Nonprofit organizations and attorneys point to a waiver issued by the federal government in March that gave hospitals the discretion to release such information to family and friends during a public health emergency. But the department said that waiver doesn’t apply to prisons.

THE CONTEXT: In a post to its website this month, the department said it will only release information to a single person listed as an emergency contact, regardless of whether that person is a family member or “next of kin,” which is the typical process for authorities to notify a family of a death.

For many inmates, however, their emergency contact information is as old as when they received it, which was the day they were imprisoned. And families and prison rights groups said the department is not doing enough to inform prisoners about the importance of updating their information.

Since March, at least 8,000 inmates among the overall population of 40,000 have contracted COVID-19, with 85 deaths as of Friday.

“Sometimes, I like to think I get paid to hike.”

—Praveed “Abe” Abraham, Pennsylvania's first full-time warden of color in the Game Commission’s 115-year history
POST IT: Dreaming of summer at Reed Run Nature Preserve, from Spotlight PA's Sarah Anne HughesSend us your hidden gems use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.
FOLLOW THE MONEY: Public records show billionaire Jeffrey Yass, co-founder of a Philadelphia-based financial trading firm, is one of the top donors to the anti-tax group Club for Growth, which in turn has bankrolled Republican lawmakers who challenged the November election results, the Guardian reports. Yass told an associate "he had not foreseen how his contributions would lead to attempts to overturn U.S. democracy."
DELAYED EXAMS: Education advocates are calling on state officials to further extend the deadline for a standardized test that measures the progress of English language learners, WITF reports. The test has to be done in person, and advocates are concerned about COVID-19.
RED TAPE: As enrollment in Medicaid and the federal food assistance program have increased in Pennsylvania, the state's welfare program is going the other direction, WESA reports. Advocates say that's because the reporting requirements are too burdensome for monetary benefits that haven't increased in more than 20 years.

 MORE AID: Under President-elect Joe Biden's proposed stimulus package, Pennsylvania colleges, universities, and students would receive $21 billion in aid, TribLIVE reports. More than $84 million of that relief would be directed at Penn State, which enrolls nearly 75,000 students statewide.
PELOSI'S PROPERTY: The FBI is investigating whether a Harrisburg woman stole a laptop or hard drive from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to sell to Russia, the Washington Post reports. The plan apparently fell through, and the woman is now under arrest.
THEN AND NOW: An artist from just outside Pittsburgh designed this year's Google Doodle for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “It’s talking about the ways we’re similar and different from the civil rights movement, and now,” 25-year-old Noa Denmon said.

THE VOICE: No, it's not Barry White, it's 17-year-old Delaware County native Luke Thomas, whose rich bass layered over a sea shanty went viral on TikTok. Philadelphia Magazine spoke to Thomas about his role in the head-scratching craze sweeping the nation.

FOOTHOLD: President-elect Joe Biden's medical team made use of a unique CT scanner developed by a Montgomery County-based firm to treat the foot he fractured in November. The machine can get a three-dimensional picture of a foot while the patient is standing, something both X-rays and other CT scanners can't do.

UNDERGROUND LAIR: Businesses and government agencies are using an abandoned limestone mine in an undisclosed location in Butler County as a secure data storage center. The mine has its own street names and fire brigade.

YOU AREN'T MY SUNSHINE: Low prices are fueling a solar panel boom in Pennsylvania, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Rural residents are concerned about largely disproven claims they are toxic
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