The Marshall Project was awarded the prestigious Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting on Tuesday night for our series on one of the most dangerous and dysfunctional penal systems in the country. The $25,000 award, which honors the best in public interest journalism, will be split among reporting teams at The Marshall Project and Mississippi Today, who led the investigations. The work also appeared in the Jackson Clarion Ledger, the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, and the USA Today Network.
The judging committee cited “outstanding, deeply reported, data-backed storytelling, and the direct impact this series is having on public policy reforms in Mississippi.” They honored the way reporters made policy failures real to readers by telling specific stories of individuals within the penal system. “These stories gave faces and names to systemic failures, the reporting of which were backed up by cutting edge data journalism and dogged shoe-leather reporting,” the judges said. “The series brings readers an understanding of what it’s like to be inside Mississippi’s troubled penal system. One judge noted that this series ‘shows in visceral terms why you can't get ahead in a system like this.’”
“We’re all so proud of the work our reporters and our partners did to expose shocking practices in Mississippi’s prison system,” said Susan Chira, editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project. “We thank those brave enough to come forward to reveal these issues, and congratulate the other finalists for their extraordinary accountability reporting.”
In “Mississippi Prisons: No One’s Safe, Not Even the Guards,” we exposed that the state’s Department of Corrections is so dysfunctional that it allowed a private prison company to increase profits while the prisons grew more violent. Adding taxpayer insult to injury, the department did nothing to collect millions of dollars in penalties from the company, as we revealed in “No-Show Prison Workers Cost Mississippi Taxpayers Millions.”
The Marshall Project and Mississippi Today pulled back the curtain on a remarkable vestige of the past: the state’s debtors prisons. “Think Debtors Prisons are a Thing of the Past? Not in Mississippi” revealed that the state of Mississippi sentences people with felony convictions to prison-like “restitution centers” until they pay fines, court fees and restitution. The people work low-wage jobs by day and sleep in locked facilities at night. We found no other state that is continuing this practice.
As a result of our reporting, Shad White, the state auditor, released a blistering report about the state corrections department, finding that people held in restitution centers often weren't informed when they had repaid their debts, and the department was not verifying the amounts paid so people could leave the centers and go home. “This audit shows how a pervasive lack of spending controls can have devastating effects on real people,” White said. “I’m appalled at what this audit showed. The state must fix this, and now.”
Another investigation from The Marshall Project and its partners was also one of the six finalists. Mauled: When Police Dogs Are Weapons exposed how police across the country use canines to attack suspects, resulting in severe and long-lasting injuries.
The Goldsmith Prize, which is run by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, founded in 1991 and funded by a gift from the Greenfield Foundation, honors the best public service investigative journalism that has made an impact on local, state, or federal public policy or the practice of politics in the United States. Finalists receive $10,000, and the winner receives $25,000. All prize monies go to the journalist or team that produced the reporting.