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When 'compassionate release' means choosing to die

Plus, Philly is lifting the mask rule it just reinstated.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 22, 2022
Compassionate release, rule change, death notice, fighting words, moneymakers, and the Garden State goes green. It's Friday. 
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Bradford Gamble spent his entire adult life inside Pennsylvania state prisons, where he was sent after being sentenced in 1976 for a murder he committed at the age of 19. It's an action he's come to deeply regret.

When he was diagnosed with cancer at 65, Gamble gained the opportunity to use a little-known Pennsylvania law that allows terminally ill people to leave prison, but only if they have less than a year to live.

For people serving life, it's one of the only ways out. But as Spotlight PA reports, it left Gamble with a difficult decision: Receive treatment in a Pennsylvania state prison or die on the outside.

THE CONTEXT: Gamble is one of only 33 people who have successfully petitioned to leave Pennsylvania prisons because of illness in the past 13 years. Spotlight PA first detailed the narrow parameters of the state's "compassionate release" law in March.

The statute, established in 2009, allows older and sick people to transfer from prison to a hospital or long-term care facility if they have less than a year to live, or to a hospice if they are terminally ill and unable to walk.

If the person gets better, the Department of Corrections or a state prosecutor can ask a court to send them back to prison.

Gamble now lives with his nephew in West Philadelphia. During an interview with Spotlight PA, he sat next to a shirt he designed with a photo of the incarcerated activist who helped bring about his release. The phrases "Fight for Justice" and "One Heartbeat" surround the image.

"I came up with that because it's many men and women, but we all had the same heartbeat as far as getting home to our loved ones," he said.

The shirt also displays the bill number for legislation that would replace the current compassionate release law and establish more flexible parole opportunities based on age or illness.

Read more: Pa.'s broken 'compassionate release' law, by the numbers


"You need to show your ID to get a cheesesteak in Philadelphia." 

GOP gubernatorial candidate Lou Barletta on his support for stricter voter ID rules, which he compared to showing vaccine cards at restaurants
» Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor

» 5 takeaways from Spotlight PA's Republican gubernatorial debate

» A guide to the overlooked race for Pa. lieutenant governor

» Big donations to GOP guv hopefuls: Who gave and how much?

» Tell Spotlight PA what election coverage matters the most to you
A pastoral scene along the Appalachian Trail in Cumberland County, courtesy of Robert S. Have a cool pic of your own you'd like to share? Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
MASK MANDATE: Days after Philadelphia reinstated its indoor mask mandate, city officials say they plan to end the requirement because of improving COVID-19 hospitalization and infection numbers, 6ABC reports. More details will be released this morning. Philadelphia was the first major U.S. city to reinstate a mask mandate this spring, prompting a lawsuit and confusion as a national mask rule covering airplanes and public transportation was struck down by a federal judge.

NO CONTACT: Theresa Harris was never told that her husband Vinckley suffered a medical emergency while in custody at Allegheny County Jail. She also wasn't consulted before he was taken into surgery, or before jail personnel made the decision to take him off of life support, the Pittsburgh Institute of Nonprofit Journalism reports. The case is raising red flags for experts, including a professor in biomedical ethics who says it demonstrates violations of state and federal law.

CAMPAIGN CONFLICT: Teddy Daniels, a Republican running for lieutenant governor, has threatened to confront an opponent, state Rep. Russ Diamond (R., Lebanon), over a social media post raising questions about Daniels' background. Daniels told Diamond: "You and I are going to be in the same room, I believe twice, before the primary." The AP reports the LG field is expected to gather near Wilkes-Barre today.

GAME SHARE: Pennsylvania gambling revenue hit an all-time monthly high of $463 million in March, KDKA-TV reports. With big money on the line, casinos are wary of a burgeoning and unregulated source of competition here: so-called skill games. Spotlight PA reports one casino even drafted a ban on skill games for a state lawmaker. The legislation that followed matched the draft almost word-for-word.

OPEN STATE: The Biden administration has announced plans to expedite the arrival of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia's invasion with a new system that enlists ordinary citizens and organizations such as churches to act as sponsors — a move at least partly intended to keep them from entering via Mexico. In Pennsylvania, schools are preparing and Gov. Tom Wolf is seeking $2 million to support resettlement efforts here. Pennsylvania is also currently resettling Afghan refugees.

FIFTH WORST: A health care think tank says Pittsburgh-based UPMC is the fifth worst in the nation among health systems and hospitals when you compare what it spends on charity care and community investment with the tax exemptions it receives, per TribLIVE. UPMC strongly disagrees.

CAMP IN: A group of UPenn students wants the Ivy League school to divest from fossil fuels and they're camping out on campus "for the foreseeable future" to get their environmental demands met, The Inquirer reports.

FLIGHT PLAN: A mystery airline has submitted a proposal that would bring commercial flights back to Reading, WFMZ reports. Officials won't say which airline because it's "too early in the process." 

LEGAL SALES: Sales of recreational cannabis started in New Jersey on Thursday and Pennsylvanians were there for it. In Harrisburg, some lawmakers hope this will spur our state to follow suit.

POST IT: If you had Seltzer's Smokehouse Meats of Palmyra making a 4/20 joke on your 4/20 bingo card, congratulations because I definitely did not.

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.

*This week's theme: Let's dance!
Yesterday's answer: Kinesthetic

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Bonnie R., Don H., Heidi B., Susan N.-Z., Craig W., Kimberly S., Elaine C., Susan D., Nancy S., George S., Deb N., David S., Pat B., Bill S., Dianne K., Vicki U., James B., and Kim C.
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