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Pa. jail deaths are regularly undercounted

Plus, abandoned turnpike tunnel set to get million-dollar makeover

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The logo of PA Post, a free daily newsletter delivering the top news from across Pennsylvania every day.

A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

Friday, November 10, 2023
In today's edition: Deaths denied, cannabis considered, turnpike trail, indie nurses, housing funds, and destination Harrisburg.
In 2022, county governments reported only 40 out of 65 deaths in Pennsylvania jails, an investigation by PennLive and the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism has found.

Jail deaths are supposed to be reported to the federal Department of Justice or the state Department of Corrections, but they are severely undercounted across Pennsylvania. The outlets created a database to fill in the gap.

The undercount stems from some county governments circumventing state law by releasing incarcerated people before they die. Some coroners also refuse to release the names of jail residents who die.

Read the full PennLive and PINJ report here: Deaths in Pa. jails are undercounted. Our investigation found dozens of hidden cases.

THE CONTEXT: The investigation found that there is no oversight mechanism for reporting jail deaths in Pennsylvania, a gap that results in a lack of accountability.

The issue is compounded by counties recording different details in autopsy records, and sometimes not indicating how or where a death occurred.

The newsrooms requested jails’ medical release information from all 67 Pennsylvania counties, but those records were also incomplete. Some records were redacted or withheld, factors that make “it nearly impossible to know the extent of the problem,” the newsrooms write.
“It’s a city of firsts that also says it’s okay if you don’t quite have it figured all out just yet.”
—Author Eric Smith on why most of his novels are set in Philadelphia
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» RESULTS REVIEW: Join us, the New Pennsylvania Project, and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts on Thursday, Nov. 16 from 6-7 p.m. for a Q&A on the election results. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.

Sunset along Route 45 in Centre County, via Charlie D. Have a photo you'd like to share with the whole commonwealth? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
a pinkish-purple sunset sits a top backdrop of farm house and a winding road
GROToday's top news story in Pennsylvania.WING PRESSURE: State Sen. Sharif Street (D., Philadelphia) told PennLive (paywall) he feels “optimistic” about Pennsylvania legalizing recreational marijuana following Ohio approving it earlier this week. Measures to legalize cannabis face opposition in the state legislature, but Ohio’s shift makes West Virginia the commonwealth’s only neighbor that doesn’t allow it. A TribLIVE Q&A with two attorneys discusses the political hurdles to Pennsylvania joining the trend.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.TUNNEL TRANSFORMATION: A long-abandoned section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike will be converted into a bicycling and hiking trail through state and federal funding, the Bay Journal reports. Two decades ago, plans to rehab the Sideling Hill Tunnel fell apart because of a lack of local buy-in, but now officials are on board. The total cost to complete the project could reach $18 million.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.HOUSING FUNDS: State officials recently detailed how $98 million in grants will be used to address Pennsylvania’s affordable housing shortage. The York Daily Record reports Pennsylvania plans to divide the funding up by county and put it toward construction as well as preservation, depending on need. The funding can also be used for repair projects, and recipients have through 2026 to spend it.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.INDEPENDENT PRACTICE: In Pennsylvania, nurses are not allowed to practice on their own without being afiliated with a doctor but a new bill is looking to change that. The legislation, introduced by state Rep. Nancy Guenst (D., Montgomery) would allow the state’s more than 18,000 nurse practitioners to treat their patients independently, FOX56 reports. Twenty-seven other states allow independent nurses. 

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.SEWER PROJECT: The Lehigh County Authority is eyeing a $600 million plan to address sewer problems across 15 municipalities. The Morning Call (paywall) reports the plan looks to improve aging infrastructure, dwindling system capacity, and overflows from rain, and that it could affect customers’ sewage rates. Each municipality would need to approve the plan by early 2025 for it to advance. 
🏆 NEWS QUIZ: Stay on top of the news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Election results, swapped votes, and a Hollywood celeb’s pet plea.
WINTER SHELTER: A Downtown Pittsburgh church will not be used as winter shelter for homeless people, ending a decade-long arrangement, PublicSource reports. An alternative option was announced Thursday but the location is unknown. 

FINAL DEAL: United Auto Workers members in the Lehigh Valley could end their monthlong strike when the union votes on a final contract from Mack Trucks next week, the Morning Call (paywall) reports. 

POPULAR RETIREMENT: Harrisburg is the top place to retire for 2024, according to U.S. News & World Report. Axios reports retirees are attracted to the city’s proximity to attractions and walking trails.

BANDANA BOND: After a Pennsylvania woman donated her late dog’s bandana to a shelter, she saw it on another dog and ended up taking the pup home, Yahoo reports.

DOC SPOTLIGHT: Teens from a Philadelphia school’s songwriting program will be featured in an HBO documentary that’s executive produced by musician John Legend, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. 
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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 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.
Yesterday's answer: Intermission

Congrats to our daily winners: Don H., Stacy S., Richard A., Barbara F., Karthik B., Jane R., Susan N., Beth T., Becky C., Kevin H., Jon W., Lynne E., Elaine C., Jody A., Kim C., Alan B., Susan D., Marty M., David W., Karen W., Christina M., William Z., Jeffrey F., and Craig E.
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