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Jails at a crisis point, the property tax divide, and 'forever chemicals' in everything

Plus, time is running out to register to vote in this election.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
October 20, 2022
Ill-prepared, registration day, school support, big development, new precedent, asked and answered, and potato art. It's Wednesday. This is PA Post.

A survey of county jails across Pennsylvania found many openly admitting that they are ill-equipped to address a growing mental health crisis.

The survey, part of a collaboration between Spotlight PA and the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, drew responses from more than 20 Pennsylvania jails serving the majority of the state population.

They described similar situations: a growing number of incarcerated people with serious mental health needs, a lack of medical staff, and a complex system for accessing the few resources available from the state.

And that lack of preparedness is putting some of the most vulnerable incarcerated people at heightened risk.

Read the full report: Jail officials across Pa. sound alarm as mental health crisis puts people at risk, survey finds.

THE CONTEXT: The survey was sent to every jail in Pennsylvania. Those that responded house roughly 13,000 people combined.

Officials described a justice system that funnels people into jails even when their criminal behavior may be a symptom of their mental illness. 

"The jail acts as a de facto social worker," wrote David Kratz, director of corrections in Bucks County. 

Scott Robinson, warden of the Snyder County Prison in Selinsgrove, said, "We appear to be a 'dumping ground.'" 

Others said they don't have the training or tools to deal with rising rates of mental illness that, in many cases, went untreated before.

"When individuals are not medicating, we have very little success in getting them started," wrote William Schouppe, warden at the Beaver County Jail. "We do not have the resources to care for those folks."


"I am stating today as I have stated in the past that I am happy to answer questions from the committee in a public hearing."

—Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner saying he'll testify before state House lawmakers eyeing his possible impeachment, but only in public
Read our complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.

Spotlight on the Issues: Where Mastriano and Shapiro stand on:

»  College Funding & Student Debt
»  Energy & Environment
»  Crime & Justice
»  LGTBQ Rights
»  Abortion, Medicaid, & Opioids
»  Rural Health Care & Broadband

More issue analyses will be published in the coming weeks. 

A complete listing of Spotlight PA voter guides:  

»  Your complete guide to voting in the Nov. 8 election
»  Everything you need to know about mail ballots
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
»  No constitutional amendments on the ballot, but big ones loom
»  How to serve as a poll worker on Nov. 8
»  These Pa. voters haven't missed a Nov. election in 50+ years
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election

En Español:

»  Una guía básica para investigar a los candidatos
»  Cómo trabajar como trabajador electoral el 8 de noviembre
»  Todo lo que necesita saber para votar por correo
»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» @KYLEGRIFFIN1: Fetterman releases an updated medical report
» LNP: Candidate skips debate, says it wouldn't impact results (paywall)
» LVN: Judge lets Lehigh Co. use election dropboxes as planned
» POLITICO: AARP US Senate poll finds Oz closing in on Fetterman
» US ELECTIONS PROJECT: Watch Pennsylvania's early votes come in
» WESA: Dems slam GOP candidate's 'deceitful' women's health care ad
Sunset from the backyard of Sandy S. in Uptown Harrisburg. Send us your photos of sunsets, or Halloween decorations, or a selfie taken when you drop off or mail your mail ballot. Email PA Gem submissions to us here, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
DEADLINE DAY: You have until Monday to register to vote in the Nov. 8 election. If you haven't yet, you can do so here. If you're unsure of your registration status, confirm it first. And once you're all set, visit Spotlight PA's Election Center for key dates and calendar holds, an interactive sample ballot, a campaign finance tracker, and guides to the candidates. Reminder two: Mail ballots must be requested by Nov. 1.

TAX QUESTIONS: City & State asks if Pennsylvania can erase property taxes without wiping out education. The question has long loomed over Harrisburg and halted efforts to adjust the levies, a primary source of school funding. And while a one-time boost in property tax rebates rolled out this year, long-term action could, like so many other things, depend on the outcome of this year's governor's race.

STATE SALE: Outgoing state Sen. Pat Browne (R., Lehigh) is moving a bill that would sell the massive Allentown State Hospital property — a generational redevelopment opportunity — to a development group headed by his childhood friend and political donor J.B. Reilly. The Morning Call (paywall) reports the $5.5 million proposed sale has the support of other lawmakers but also lots of critics.
LEGAL LABEL: Months after Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of Spotlight PA's push to uncover more information about Pennsylvania's medical marijuana program, the court has changed the status of its opinion from "unreported" to "reported." It's a significant development that means the decision "can now be cited as binding precedent in other cases," reporter Ed Mahon explains.

INDUSTRIAL Q&A: Pennsylvania's largest industrial project since World War II is happening in Beaver County. Shell's ethane cracker plant will turn Shale gas into plastic, and with full operations set to begin any day now, StateImpact got experts to answer questions from locals on how the plant could impact property values, gas royalties, and air quality in a region where the latter is already a constant concern.

IN NATURE: The AP reports toxic "forever chemicals" known as PFAS are increasingly being found in fish and game animals, like deer, in the U.S. Pennsylvania issued a "do not eat" order for tainted fish in the Neshaminy Creek basin last year. A test of area deer yielded better results.

BUILDING BLOCK: State College has adopted a zoning change meant to pause student high-rise development amid concerns about the sustainability of the borough's current building boom. StateCollege.com reports tall buildings are still allowed, but a decade-old incentive is gone.

NO NOTICE: Upper Mount Bethel Township in Northampton County may have violated Pennsylvania's transparency law in discussing a controversial warehouse project without notifying the public first, the Morning Call (paywall) reports. Warehouse opponents weren't thrilled.

DINNER BELLS: The bell has tolled for the Inquirer's bell-based restaurant rating system. Food critic Craig LaBan (paywall) says the pre-pandemic rating system no longer applies in today's restaurant world.

ART STARCH: The butter sculpture at Pennsylvania's annual farm show is cool, but potato may be the superior artistic medium.

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. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Maximize

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Craig W., Starr B., Jodi R., Joel S., James S., Marty M., Irene R., Kim C., Kimberly D., Barbara F., Mike B., Nancy S., Beth T., Nola D., Patricia M., Daniel M., Brian B., Ted W., Michelle T., Debra P., John P., Al M., Mark O., Wendy A., Don H., Ed M., Elaine C., Antoinette F., Susan R., Judith D., Steve D., Michael K., Jane R., Hugh M., Deb N., Karen W., John F., Bruce Bi., Chuck M., Bruce Ba., John A., Mark C., Mary Kay M., Chuck D., James B., Susan N.-Z., Ronnee G., Becca S., Deb N., Stanley J., Fred O., John W., Cameron T., Georgann J., Jim A., George S., Bill S., Greg V., Susan D., Dianne K., Catherine J., Moon M., Cynthia R., Michael B., Eddy Z., Sharon G., Jody A., Bill S., David W., Rick A., Ken S., John B., David H., Kevin M., and John H.
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