Land of the Free | The Best Investigative Reporting on U.S. Prisons

Land of the Free: the Best Investigative Reporting on U.S. Prisons

by Cora Currier ProPublica

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We’ve rounded up some of the best investigative journalism on U.S. prisons and the problems that plague them. These stories cover juvenile justice, private prisons, immigration detention and other aspects of America’s vast incarceration system.

Louisiana Incarcerated: How we built the world’s prison capital, The Times-Picayune, May 2012

Louisiana’s incarceration rate tops the U.S.’s, Iran’s and China’s. This eight-part series explains how it got there: lobbying from private prison companies, cash-strapped municipalities, harsh sentencing, and limited rehabilitation for those who make it out.

America’s Expensive Sex Offenders, Salon, April 2012

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Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed With Inmates, NPR, January 2010

Thousands of inmates are stuck in jail for petty, nonviolent crimes simply because they can’t make bail. This NPR series showed how the country’s bail system “exists almost solely to protect the interests of a powerful bail bonding industry.”

What the Jail Guard Saw, Village Voice, July 2007

Some guards at New York City’s prison island, Rikers, weren’t just turning a blind eye to violence–they were encouraging it. The Voice has been covering the fallout from Rikers’ ” Fight Club” ever since, and five years later, they obtained gruesome photos showing rampant violence persists, despite the Correction Department’s efforts.

Hellhole, The New Yorker, March 2009

Atul Gawande looked at the U.S.’s widespread use of isolation, which has ballooned in the past 20 years. At least 25,000 prisoners are now held in isolation just in so-called super-max prisons. And their minds can quickly degrade. “The experience,” Gawande writes, “typically leaves them unfit for social interaction.”

Why Are Prisoners Committing Suicide in Pennsylvania? The Nation, April 2012

An investigation the effects of solitary confinement on mentally ill prisoners in Pennsylvania. Also see this account from the Arizona Republic: nineteen prisoners in Arizona have killed themselves in the last two years, many of them while in solitary confinement2014a widespread practice in the state.

The Devil’s Playground, Westword, February 2011

Earlier this year the Justice Department laid out new rules aimed at eliminating widespread sexual abusein U.S. prisons. This article chronicles the ordeal of one inmate who tried to report rape in a Colorado prison.

Uncompromising Photos Expose Juvenile Detention in America, Wired, April 2012

America locks up children at a quicker rate than all other developed countries, with about 60,000 juveniles imprisoned on any given day. Photographer Richard Ross spent five years photographing the little-seen conditions inside 350 correction centers across the U.S.

For teens guilty of murder, penalties can vary widely, New England Center for Investigative Reporting, December 2011, and Direct Fail: Colorado’s policy of sending teens to adult court, 5280 Magazine, December 2011

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision this week to strike down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, it’s worth revisiting these exposes of juvenile justice in Colorado and Massachusetts, two states that often sentence teens as adults.

A Death in Texas: Profits, poverty and immigration converge, Boston Review, December 2009

Privately run immigration detention facilities have proliferated along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the small towns where they’re located have rarely benefited. (Such tales aren’t limited to the border, as this report from Georgia tells).

Private Prisons Profit From Immigration Crackdown, Federal And Local Law Enforcement Partnerships, Huffington Post, June 2012

The country’s two largest private prison companies have spent tens of millions on lobbying in the past decade and doubled their campaign contributions, as the government launched tougher immigration rules. Since 2005, they’ve also more than doubled their revenues from immigration detention.


3 Responses to “Land of the Free | The Best Investigative Reporting on U.S. Prisons”
  1. talktotennessee says:

    Our justice and prison system needs a major overhaul that it is not likely to improve as long as we believe in punishing people by warehousing them instead of rehabilitation or retraining. Our criminal legal system brags in of a 99% conviction rate and uses that to ‘persuade’ people to plead out, whether they are guilty or not in some cases. The public defenders using statistics to frighten people into pleading fail to tell them that the conviction rate is not based on jury trial but plea bargaining. Unless one has adequate representation and I mean “paid” legal representation, they are unlikely to have a chance. If unable to make bond, they will sit in some holding jail for months and months until they plead guilty unless they file for fast and speedy trial. Public Defenders work for the state or government. They are part of the problem not a solution. It is their job to see that those convicted plead out because they have too many assignments to represent through trial plus it is too much work and expensive on the state. A jury trial of peers is little more than a myth. When they destroyed the incentive of parole, they made it almost impossible for men and women to work positively for early release. There should be separate facilities for those arrested for drug use that focuses on rehabilitation.
    It is so obvious that we have lost integrity and compassion in this country in favor of greed at the expense of human rights.
    Louisiana’s prison system would be a joke if it wasn’t such a tragedy!

  2. Ken Hansen says:

    Great post – it is a tragedy and a shame we have so many incarcerated in this country. We have people imprisoned simply because they are poor! Our systems are out of control, broken and much more harmful than most realize. Losing one’s home to fraud is a confirmation of widespread injustice, and we have things in common with our brothers and sisters who needlessly suffer in prisons across the USA.

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