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Mission Statement

The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. We achieve this through award-winning journalism, partnerships with other news outlets and public forums. In all of our work we strive to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice.

Diversity and The Marshall Project

The Marshall Project is committed to building and maintaining a diverse workforce, and not only because our name is a tribute to a hero of equal justice. We best serve our audience by bringing a variety of experiences and vantage points to bear on the issues we cover. We regard diversity as integral to our overall responsibility, which is to produce the best possible journalism about the U.S. criminal justice system, with its disproportionate impacts on communities of color. Read our most recent annual diversity report.

Why The “Marshall” Project?

Thurgood Marshall is an American hero. His work as a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, including the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, laid the groundwork for the modern U.S. civil rights movement. As the first African-American justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, he was a persuasive advocate for a living and breathing Constitution that sees beyond the prejudices of revolutionary America.

If Marshall were alive, I have no doubt that he would place criminal justice reform high among the urgent priorities of today’s civil rights movement, and that his would be a powerful voice for change. It is for these reasons that I chose to name The Marshall Project in his honor. — Neil Barsky, founder of The Marshall Project

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was a towering figure in the civil rights movement and the first African American justice to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Before joining the court in 1967, he worked as a civil rights lawyer, famously criss-crossing the South on behalf of black clients who were facing Jim Crow justice from white police officials, prosecutors, judges and juries. In 1940, at age 32, he founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and served as an executive there for two decades. He and his colleagues won a series of Supreme Court victories that gradually eroded the "separate but equal" doctrine, the legal underpinning of segregation in America. The most famous of those cases was Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 decision that declared unconstitutional segregation in the nation's public schools.

Nominated by President Lyndon Johnson, and confirmed by the Senate on a vote of 69-11, Marshall served on the Supreme Court for 24 years until his retirement at the end of the 1991 term. During his tenure, he was known for his strong support of First Amendment principles and was a reliable vote against the death penalty, even though he often said he was personally not opposed to capital punishment. He frequently sided with his fellow Warren Court jurists in seeking to protect and expand the constitutional rights of citizens charged with crimes, and he became a frequent dissenter during his later years as the Court moved rightward. The leader of that conservative shift, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, spoke at Marshall's funeral in 1993:

“As a result of his career as a lawyer and as a judge, Thurgood Marshall left an indelible mark, not just upon the law, but upon his country. Inscribed above the front entrance to the Supreme Court building are the words ‘Equal justice under law.’ Surely no one individual did more to make these words a reality than Thurgood Marshall.”

A letter from our founder

The seeds of The Marshall Project were planted a few years ago after I read two books. The first, Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” argues that mass incarceration — which dates roughly from President Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs in the 1980s to the present—represents the third phase of African-American oppression in the United States, after slavery and Jim Crow. Alexander documents how the United States came to be the world’s biggest jailer by enacting policies that represented a bipartisan shift in how we address addiction, mental illness, and other non-violent forms of misconduct. Fueled in part by a reaction to civil rights gains and in part by fear of escalating crime, Alexander claims, we enacted tough drug laws, imposed greater mandatory minimum sentences, and ignited a prison boom. Intent can be difficult to prove; impact is irrefutable.

The second, Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Devil in the Grove,” explores the case of four African-American males falsely accused of rape in Lake County, Fla., and the vigilante violence that ensued. At the center of the drama was NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Thurgood Marshall, the future Supreme Court justice, who bravely but largely futilely fought in Florida's courts to spare these young men's lives. This took place in 1949, before Brown v. Board of Education (a Marshall legal triumph) and before an organized national movement to combat the Jim Crow segregation laws. The national press did not cover the proceedings.

Spurred on by these chapters in American history, I continued to explore our country's system of crime and punishment. What struck me was not only how expensive, ineffective, and racially biased it is, and how difficult it is to find anyone, liberal or conservative, who defends the status quo. But also how our condition has become taken for granted. Other American crises — soaring health-care costs, the failure of public education — typically lead to public debate and legislative action. But the spike in mass incarceration appears to have had the opposite effect: The general public has become inured to the overuse of solitary confinement, the widespread incidence of prison rape and the mixing of teens and adults in hardcore prisons. The more people we put behind bars, it seemed, the more the issue receded from the public consciousness.

The Marshall Project represents our attempt to elevate the criminal justice issue to one of national urgency, and to help spark a national conversation about reform. I named our organization after Justice Marshall simply because he embodies the principles we hold dear. He was scholarly, he was courageous, and he fiercely believed that the U.S. Constitution was the template to secure civil rights for all.

The Marshall Project will practice open-minded, fact-based journalism without fear or favor. Our editor, Bill Keller, has assembled a first-class team of reporters and editors dedicated to excellence, nonpartisan reporting, and innovation. We are a journalism organization because we think that journalism, done honestly and well, has infinite power to drive change. One need only look to the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements to appreciate how important journalists were in shaping public opinion. We do not need to be strident or ideological or selective in our use of facts . When the truth is as disturbing as it was in the segregated South, or in Vietnam, or today's prisons and courts, truthful reporting can have a powerful impact. We will explore what is working as well as what is broken, and where the potential exists for meaningful reform. Our commentary section will be written by individuals whose views encompass a broad range of perspectives. Our board of advisers, for example, includes both the inspirational civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson from the Equal Justice Initiative, and the conservative thinker Marc Levin from Right on Crime, both of whom have devoted their careers to making our system more humane and effective.

Being nonpartisan is not the same as being neutral. We approach the issue with the view — shared by a growing number of conservatives and liberals — that our system needs serious rethinking. Thank you for your interest in The Marshall Project, and please do not hesitate to tell us what you think.

A letter from our editor

In April 2019, I left The New York Times after nearly 40 years as a reporter and editor to become editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project, drawn by its mission to examine justice—how it is pursued, perverted and denied.

In less than five short years, this venture in nonprofit journalism has helped raise public awareness of the inequities, discrimination and abuses that mar the justice system—policing, courts, immigration detention and all along the pipeline that leads into prison and out of it. We’ve shined a light on flawed prosecutions of rape; the abysmal treatment of the mentally ill; abuse by guards in the notorious Attica prison; the dangers of private prison transport and doubling up people in solitary confinement; the treatment of juveniles; and the uneven application of the death penalty.

We’ve embraced all forms of storytelling. Using data analysis, we’ve exploded myths that falsely linked immigrants and crime. We’ve produced evocative videos and articles that examine the toll on incarcerated women who lose custody of their children or sex offenders who face homelessness and banishment. Through our Life Inside series, we’ve offered a voice to incarcerated people usually silenced—and we have brought our articles to those in hundreds of prisons around the country who are too often cut off from information through our News Inside magazine.

The Marshall Project has garnered a remarkable slew of awards for such a young organization, including a Pulitzer Prize, Polk, Peabody, Murrow and National Magazine Awards, accolades for our data journalism and our design. We’ve shared our work with more than 140 print, digital and broadcast outlets to make sure it’s seen by as wide an audience as possible.

It’s been a joy to get to know our team and to admire their expertise. We plan to showcase this specialist knowledge as we approach an election where criminal justice and immigration will be crucial issues for voters—through stories, newsletters that provide crucial context and debunk myths; active engagement on social media; and a deeper investment in data reporting. I’m proud of this comprehensive guide to the Democratic primary candidates’ positions on criminal justice, which we will continue to update. We’re expanding our presence in the high-incarceration states of the South and teaming up with local news outlets to bolster accountability at a time of crisis for local journalism.

We at The Marshall Project are determined to continue to widen our lens through a combination of rigorous, fair-minded investigative and explanatory reporting. We are nonpartisan; we are journalists, not advocates. Yet we remain inspired by Thurgood Marshall’s determination to address racial injustice and impunity in the legal system, a system that still disproportionately affects communities of color. There are a host of other disparities that afflict the justice system—in income, education, safety and violence, national origin and gender. And we are committed to exploring them with a diverse staff and an array of perspectives.

We’re more ambitious than ever as we embark on our next stage of growth. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on our work. As a nonprofit newsroom, we also hope you’ll consider donating to help us secure our financial future at a time when journalism is under siege and the commitment to truth-telling is under attack at the highest levels.