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Inside Story · Filed 6:00 a.m.

The Making of “Superpredators”

The first edition of The Marshall Project’s new video series, designed for audiences inside and outside of prison, examines a toxic media myth that damaged a generation of Black youth.

We remember a gentleman by the name of Sammy who was incarcerated with us at Sing Sing prison. He couldn’t read. He would save letters from family members for his friends to read to him when they had time. His favorite form of entertainment was getting up to date on the news. When the hard-to-come-by newspaper appeared, Sammy would say “it was like a gift.” When both the newspaper and the mail showed up at the same time, he didn’t want to bother his friends. Instead, he would retreat to watching TV news during recreation. You didn’t have to read a television.

Three out of five people in U.S. prisons can’t read, according to The Literacy Project Foundation. While there are educational programs on the inside, they are not available to everyone, and only exist in select prisons. As a result, over half the U.S. prison population relies on television, radio and word-of-mouth to access important information.

Two years ago, The Marshall Project made a conscious effort to expand our readership inside prisons and jails. Our print publication, News Inside, now reaches over 500 facilities in 39 states. But that still leaves many men and women unable to access our journalism — because they can’t read.

That is why we are launching Inside Story. Our new video series will be shown in over 200 prisons and jails, across 35 states, on facility televisions and tablets provided to incarcerated people by Edovo, Paytel and American Prison Data Systems. We believe Inside Story will have broad appeal beyond prisons and jails. That is why you can also watch the episodes on YouTube, Vimeo and The Marshall Project's website. Each episode takes viewers inside Marshall Project stories, featuring interviews with our award-winning journalists as they report on criminal justice, and special guests who will bring their lived experience of the system to the conversation.

In our first episode — hosted by Lawrence Bartley and directed by Donald Washington Jr., who both served a combined 41 years in prison — we explore the ‘90s myth of the violent teen “superpredator.” We speak to Carroll Bogert, president of The Marshall Project, and Eli Hager, one of our staff writer colleagues. They are joined by Catherine Jones of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Together, we educate viewers on the origin and spread of the word “superpredator,” and the children dehumanized by the term.

Future episodes will explore other critical criminal justice issues. Created for audiences on both sides of the wall, Inside Story will cover stories that too often go ignored and add new angles to the conversations of the moment.

If you are incarcerated or work or volunteer in a correctional facility and are interested in showing Inside Story in your prison or jail, please contact lbartley@themarshallproject.org.

Host and Executive Producer Lawrence Bartley

Director Donald Washington, Jr.

Director of Photography Adam Giese

Additional Photography Donald Washington, Jr.

Editor Donald Washington, Jr.

Consulting Producers Ruth Baldwin and Geraldine Sealey

Archival Joseph Rodriguez, Richard Ross, Steve Shames/Polaris, NAACP, Associated Press, Getty, Pond5

Special thanks to Carroll Bogert, Catherine Jones, Eli Hager, Max McClellan, Colin Dow and Celina Fang

Before you go...

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The Marshall Project produces journalism that makes an impact. Our investigation into violence using police dogs prompted departments from Indiana to Louisiana to change their policies. Thousands of cameras were installed in the infamous Attica prison after we revealed the extent of violent abuse by guards. Municipalities stopped charging parents for their kids’ incarceration because of our reporting. Supreme Court justices have cited us, along with incarcerated people acting as their own lawyers.

The type of reporting we practice takes persistence, skill and, above all, time, which is why we need your support. Donations from readers like you allow us to commit the time and attention needed to tell stories that are driving real change. We could not do it without you.

Please donate to The Marshall Project today. We’re extremely grateful to each and every donor who helps power our journalism. Your support goes a long way toward sustaining this important work.

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Lawrence Bartley is the director of “News Inside,” the print publication of The Marshall Project which is distributed in hundreds of prisons and jails throughout the United States. He is an accomplished public speaker and has provided multimedia content for CNN, PBS, NBC Nightly News, MSNBC and more. News Inside is the recipient of the 2020 Izzy Award for outstanding achievement in independent media.

Donald Washington, Jr. is the executive assistant. He holds a graduate degree from the New York Theological Seminary and a BS from Mercy College. Previously, Donald was the co-founding President of the Back-To-School Fund, a fundraising group supplementing the educational needs of children with incarcerated parents in New York State prisons. In 2015, Donald was presented with the Ossie Davis award for his excellence in community service by Hudson Link for Higher Education.