The Marshall Project is pleased to announce it won the third-place Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, awarded by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.
The Marshall Project was recognized for its March 2022 investigation with NBC News and ProPublica, which exposed the abusive conditions inside the Acadiana Center for Youth at St. Martinville. The center is a Louisiana state facility where teens were held in solitary confinement around the clock and deprived of education. Marshall Project reporter Beth Schwartzapfel and senior multimedia editor Celina Fang, along with Erin Einhorn of NBC News and Annie Waldman of ProPublica, documented the mistreatment of the youths and demonstrated that this harsh approach to confinement was ineffective.
More than 70 Collier Prize entries were submitted this year, and one of the judges commented that the investigation into the facility was an “eye-opening investigative story” that was “well-constructed, documented, reported and written. The horrific conditions described and imposed on mostly Black children in America’s juvenile correctional facilities are heartbreaking. Through meticulous research, interviews and old-fashioned leg work, a groundbreaking expose was produced, prompting legislative actions and steps to end it. Bravo!”
Our investigation immediately launched a public debate about solitary confinement for youth in Louisiana. Shortly after it was published, local citizens, journalists, politicians and even celebrities cited our work as they attempted to get the practice changed:
State lawmakers repeatedly cited our investigation at two committee hearings, where participants heard gut-wrenching testimony about solitary confinement in the youth justice system.
Advocates, including the Equal Justice Initiative and Juvenile Justice Exchange, shared the story with their national audiences.
Atlanta rapper T.I. “Tip” Harris created a one-minute video about Acadiana, and his social justice group called on Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to shut the center down. Harris’ video then rippled out to a huge audience, including activist Tamika D. Mallory, who reposted the video on Instagram to her million-plus followers. A local group called Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children incorporated our report in statements they sent to local media and policymakers.
Louisiana’s largest newspaper, The Advocate, reprinted our story in its local editions in Baton Rouge, Acadiana and New Orleans. It also published stinging editorials condemning the conditions and made its own request for state records to write a follow-up story to our investigation. NBC’s streaming news service featured commentary from Louisiana lawmakers and an interview by The Marshall Project’s Beth Schwartzapfel with an Acadiana detainee. NBC News and ProPublica also greatly expanded our national reach.
After the state’s hearings, a bill was quickly advanced that Gov. Edwards signed into law, which restricted the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities. The law took, which went into effect in August 2022 limits young people to no more than eight hours in isolation unless they continue to pose a physical threat to themselves or others. Within the first hours of placing children in solitary confinement, they must receive a mental health check and their parents or guardians must be notified.
The Los Angeles Times was awarded the first-place Collier Prize for State Government Accountability for their series about failures by the State Bar of California to regulate and enforce the integrity of lawyers in the state. The $25,000 award, offered by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, is one of the largest journalism prizes in the nation. Second place was awarded to the Miami Herald for an exposé uncovering details of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order to fly 49 South American asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard, as part of what he described as a political statement about immigration enforcement.
The Collier Prize was founded by Nathan S. Collier, chair of The Collier Companies headquartered in Gainesville, Florida, which encouraged coverage of state government with a focus on investigative and political reporting. Collier is a descendant of Peter Fenelon Collier, who in 1888, founded Collier’s, a weekly magazine focused on investigative journalism.