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Best investigative criminal justice journalism of 2015

by Peter Wagner and Bernadette Rabuy, December 28, 2015

As 2015 winds to a close, the Prison Policy Initiative wanted to recognize eight investigative news stories that brought public attention to key issues in criminal justice reform. In no particular order:

  • Hundreds of South Carolina Inmates Sent to Solitary Confinement Over Facebook
    by Dave Maass
    Electronic Frontier Foundation
    An exposé finding that in some states incarcerated people are sent to solitary confinement for years for having Facebook accounts, even if family members on the outside are the ones accessing the accounts. In response to the original exposé, Facebook has taken steps to reform its policy of taking down incarcerated people’s Facebook accounts for state Departments of Corrections.
  • Prison Born
    by Sarah Yager
    The Atlantic
    Shining light on the rarely talked about experience of women in prison, this article focuses on the 1 in 25 women who are pregnant behind bars.
  • Probation May Sound Light, but Punishments Can Land Hard
    by Shaila Dewan
    The New York Times
    Probation can sound infinitely better than a jail sentence, but this article describes how too often probation sets people up to fail.
  • Chain Gang 2.0: If You Can’t Afford This GPS Ankle Bracelet, You Get Thrown in Jail
    by Eric Markowitz
    International Business Times
    Electronic monitoring is often seen as an “alternative to incarceration,” but Markowitz’s special report finds that for-profit GPS tracking ends up being a perfect recipe for sending people back to jail.
  • Amid Backlash Against Isolating Inmates, New Mexico Moves Toward Change
    by Natasha Haverty
    NPR
    The second in a three-part series on solitary confinement in the U.S., this 6-minute story covers growing interest in curbing the use of isolation in prisons and the challenges that come with implementing reforms.
  • For Men in Prison, Child Support Becomes a Crushing Debt
    by Eli Hager
    The Marshall Project
    Is it reasonable to expect men in prison to pay child support? Is exempting incarcerated fathers fair? This Marshall Project feature finds that many incarcerated fathers are racking up hundreds of dollars in child support debt each month.
  • Should Prison Sentences Be Based on Crimes That Haven’t Been Committed Yet?
    by Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Ben Casselman and Dana Goldstein
    FiveThirtyEight
    It’s becoming increasingly common to hear talk of “risk assessments” and “evidence-based” tools in criminal justice. This story and interactive tool unpack how risk assessments work and describe what makes Pennsylvania’s plans different: it would be the first to use risk assessment in sentencing rather than, for example, at the pretrial phase.
  • An Inmate Dies, and No One is Punished
    by Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz
    The New York Times
    This article chronicles the brutal death of Leonard Strickland, one in a larger trend of troubling beatings by corrections officers in New York State prisons. This recent New York Times article details the steps New York State prisons are now taking to better track complaints about corrections officers.

Note: The purpose of this list is to highlight journalists who filled critical gaps in the public’s knowledge about criminal justice issues. To keep things fair, we excluded from consideration any articles that we are quoted in and articles that we consulted on in any way.

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