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No counties comply with election audit deadline

Plus, Black people are 12% of Pa.’s population and half of its prison population.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 2, 2021
Prison profiles, empty audit, open season, urgent asks, rising violence, pressure campaign, and Pittsburgh's founding (football) father. It's Monday. 
JOIN US: On Thursday, we're hosting a virtual panel about rental assistance in Pennsylvania now that a federal COVID-19 eviction ban, in place since September, has come to an end. Register here.
Real-time data on Pennsylvania's prison and parole populations show Black and Latino residents are still greatly overrepresented in both categories as the state strives to reduce racial inequity in its criminal justice system.

A second-of-its-kind dashboard built by the tech nonprofit Recidiviz, which partners with governmental agencies to use data to reduce incarceration, was made public Friday and shows the percentage of Pennsylvania inmates who are Black has decreased from 55% in 2001 to about 47% today.

Still, the Associated Press reports, just 12% of Pennsylvania's population is Black, meaning Black residents are about six times overrepresented in prisons here, while Latinos are more than two times overrepresented. The same is true of parole.

"There’s been a slowdown in policy creation and discussion during COVID, but if we use the information, the data, we make better decisions," Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel said.

THE CONTEXT: Officials, like Wetzel, say the state's prison population fell by 14% in 2020 amid pleas from advocates to lessen crowding and the higher COVID-19 risks that come with it.

More broadly, the state's prison population has fallen from a high of more than 50,000 around 2014 to a little more than 37,000 this month, the AP reports. Significant racial disparities remain.

Advocates are lauding Wetzel's embrace of race data as a guidepost, especially on the heels of the system's hasty and flawed cataloging of COVID-19 numbers and metrics.

But confinement is only one-half of the law enforcement equation.

On the front end, the Pennsylvania State Police, one of the nation's largest statewide police forces, only recently resumed tracking racial data from traffic stops after Spotlight PA reported the agency had quietly suspended the practice nine years earlier.

Departments nationwide use such data to detect racial bias in policing. Research has shown that Pennsylvania troopers were roughly two to three times more likely to search Black or Hispanic drivers.
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

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"I feel exceedingly joyful, happy, that finally, you know ... after 30 or more years, after constantly knocking on the door for somebody to please hear me, that day finally came."

—Curtis Crosland, of Philadelphia, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and finally freed after more than three decades behind bars

VACCINE UPDATE: The CDC is now recommending that even fully vaccinated, asymptomatic people get tested for COVID-19 if they come into contact with someone else who has it. Previously, the CDC said only fully vaccinated people with symptoms should do so. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).

>> HOUSING PENNSYLVANIA: Join us Thursday, Aug. 5 at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free panel on everything we know about rental assistance in Pennsylvania now that a federal eviction ban has lifted. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

I was slightly underwhelmed by this cicada season, at least from my vantage point in Pittsburgh. Then this beauty came across my window for some face time over the weekend. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
NO COMPLY: Saturday's deadline for counties to turn over materials requested as part of state Sen. Doug Mastriano's contested election audit came and went with no handoff. Three counties were targeted and so far none have agreed to participate. Mastriano (R., Franklin) says subpoenas are coming, but the AP reports it might not be that simple.

EVICTION BAN: A flawed-but-vital federal eviction ban expired at midnight Saturday with neither Congress nor The White House acting to extend it. That has millions of Americans facing eviction with no protection, including thousands in Pennsylvania who are stuck in a state rent relief backlog some 44,000 applications long, per Spotlight PA.

MARKED URGENT: Gov. Tom Wolf has two public health asks for Pennsylvania lawmakers: 1) urge unvaccinated constituents to get their COVID-19 shots and 2) renew Pennsylvania's opioid disaster declaration. Wolf has extended the declaration single-handedly more than a dozen times, but May ballot questions changed the ground rules.

MURDER RATE: ProPublica says Philadelphia is awash in illegal guns and emblematic of the complicated forces driving pandemic-era surges in murder rates nationwide. But while the city's mayor, Jim Kenney, says his administration is addressing the problem with urgency, there are plenty of critics who disagree, per The Philadelphia Tribune.

PRESSURED: U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., York) was one of three congressional allies praised by then-President Donald Trump in a call seeking DOJ support for his campaign to overturn the 2020 election. The New York Times previously reported that Perry sparked Trump's failed push to replace the head of the DOJ with someone more sympathetic.
LONG GOODBYE: A powerful photo essay from the Philadelphia Inquirer gives a poignant look at the 1,500-mile journey home for nine Rosebud Sioux children who died at a Carlisle assimilation school in the 19th century. Meanwhile, members of the indigenous Lenape tribe, who were forced from Pennsylvania centuries ago, still yearn for their homeland, WHYY reports.

WICKED WEATHER: Officials confirm eight tornadoes touched down in Pennsylvania and New Jersey last week, including one in Bucks County that left five people injured, none seriously. NBC10 has video from inside a Bensalem car dealership the moment an EF3 tornado plowed through it.

BROKEN DREAM: A Pennsylvania race could have sent cyclist Phil Gaimon to the Tokyo Olympics. Instead, a serious crash sent him to two hospitals — one in the Lehigh Valley and one in New York City — and left him facing $200,000 in medical bills and a two-year fight to lower them, NPR reports.

PARK IT: Pennsylvania has a new, 25-year plan for promoting and maintaining more than 100 parks in the state park system, per ABC27. An unrelated study found Pennsylvania is near the bottom in terms of how much outdoor recreation contributes to the state's economy, via City Paper.

HISTORY LOOKS: A visitor to Pittsburgh's airport thought it funny that statues of George Washington and Steelers immaculate reception legend Franco Harris are side by side and, apparently, of equal local historical significance. A Pittsburgh Twitter user responded, "Yes, and?"
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Friday's answer: Bilateral

Congrats to our weekly winner: Barbara A.

Congrats to our daily winners: Al M., Craig W., Neal W., Beth T., Irene R., Susan D., Becky C., Don H., Kimberly B., Craig E., Chris M., Doris T., Bob R., George S., Heidi B., Daniel M., Dennis M., Barbara M., Susan N., Elaine C., Ron P., James B., Carol D., Kim C., Christine M., Suzanne S., David W., Elizabeth W., Brian B., and Myles M.
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