For the second year in a row, a provocative piece of investigative journalism in Mother Jones magazine captured one of the Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Awards presented on February 4 by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ).
Shane Bauer’s article “No Way Out,” an examination of solitary-confinement practices in California, won the award in the single-story category. The award for best series of articles was presented to Cindy Chang, the lead writer of “Louisiana Incarcerated: How We Built the World’s Prison Capital,” an eight-part series that ran in The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune.
The reporters were honored at a ceremony and dinner held in conjunction with the 8th annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, “Smart Justice: Changing How We Think About Crime and Punishment (and How We Report It).” The ceremony also included the presentation of the CMCJ’s first Justice Trailblazer Award, to David Simon, the Baltimore-based journalist, author and television producer.
“Sharp and incisive journalism is essential to broadening the nation’s understanding of the criminal justice system, especially in the areas where we have fallen short of our ideals,” President Jeremy Travis said in commending the honorees.
The awards, which CMCJ Director Stephen Handelman called “the Pulitzer Prizes of criminal justice journalism,” recognize the year’s best print and online justice reporting that has had a noteworthy impact on public policy or debate.
The winning entries will be posted on the Center’s Web site, www.jjay.cuny.edu/cmcj...
Bauer, an Oakland, CA-based freelance reporter and photographer, was arrested while traveling in Iran with two companions and spent nearly 26 months in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. Upon his release and repatriation, he began following stories of long-term solitary confinements in the California prison system, which led eventually to his award-winning report for Mother Jones. Bauer found that 500 California inmates had been in solitary for 10 years or more. In accepting his award, Bauer saluted “the people who see the fissures in our criminal justice system and are trying to change things.”
Chang worked for nearly a year on her award-winning series for The Times-Picayune, in which she exposed how a system of for-profit prisons in Louisiana has produced the world’s highest incarceration rate. “Committing a crime in Louisiana turns you into a dollar sign, not someone who has made a mistake,” she told ceremony attendees.
Simon was an energetic young reporter for the The Baltimore Sun in the 1980s when he began immersing himself in the gritty world of the city’s homicide squad. His reporting skills and street sense helped produce two nonfiction works, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. Homicide became the basis for a top-rated NBC drama that aired from 1993 to 1999, while The Corner was turned into an award-winning HBO miniseries. Simon also created the HBO series “The Wire,” “Generation Kill” and “Tremé.”
Introduced at the awards ceremony by his longtime friend Lt. Terrence McLarney, former commander of the Baltimore homicide squad, Simon said he owed “a real debt of gratitude to anyone who would talk to me” – which was not a popular thing to do within the Baltimore police establishment. “There’s often an incredible amount of personal risk in talking to a reporter,” he said. He also congratulated the evening’s award winners for doing what he called “real journalism.”
The Guggenheim Symposium comprised two days of workshops, plenary sessions and panel discussions attended by journalists, practitioners and scholars from across the country, with topics that included prisoner re-entry; criminal justice funding; grass-roots crime prevention; restorative justice; pretrial detention, and more. The symposium also featured keynote presentations by Loretta E. Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Mary Lou Leary, the acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General in charge of the Office of Justice Programs.