ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Cancel

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

We highlight some of the most revealing journalism on the U.S. prison
system.

.

The Rikers Island prison complex. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The U.S. has the highest reported 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

Programs that keep some sex offenders detained indefinitely after their criminal sentences are up have grown drastically in recent years, and so has their cost—“civil commitment” is on average four times as expensive as prison. But releasing sex offenders has proven politically fraught. (For a few state-by-state investigations, see these muckreads on Washington, Virginia, and New York.)

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 confinement—a 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.

Clarification (6/29): We’ve clarified this story to note that the U.S. has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world. There are a few countries—notably North Korea—for which reliable prison statistics aren’t available.

Privatize Prisons—Privatize Air—Privatize Government…

Privatize Government——-  So that’s what all this privatizing is about.

For those who think privatizing everything is a good thing.  Think again before the private death councils come to get you.

For all who find some value in a government that can be controlled by the vote of the citizens,—— Value that vote and guard it from those who would take it away.

Let private enterprise do it “better”, and they’ll want to do more.  That’s just one more reason not to privatise things like prisons, where you don’t want people trying to “grow” the market.

In the meantime, governments love to keep the public fearful.  It keeps them docile.  So terrify everyone with stories of all those criminals out there, make sure there are laws to make just about anyone a criminal, and you keep the power.

Edmund Singleton

June 30, 2012, 3:52 a.m.

The U.S. prison industry is the best that money can buy on the backs of the poor…

WHY DON’T WE JUST CUT TO THE CHASE…CLOSE ALL THE HIGH SHOOLS NOW…WE ARE HEADED IN THAT DIRECTION ANYHOW…THINK OF THE MONEY WE WILL SAVE…NO TEACHERS TO PAY…NO CAFETERIA WORKERS…NO JANITORES ETC.  LET’S JUST PUT ALL THE STUDENTS INTO PRISON..BECAUSE AT THE RATE WE ARE GOING THEY WILL MOST LIKELY END UP THERE ANYHOW….. READ A BOOK (WHILE BOOKS ARE STILL AVAILABLE)..ATLAS DRUGGED,AYN RAND BE DAMNED..BY STEPHEN GOLDSTEIN

leslie griffith

June 30, 2012, 10:37 a.m.

More prisons than Universities? Evidence of a society in ruins. And, Americans just keep dozing off while watching faux news.

Colorado prison on Smith Road, had excellent “cafeteria” food was in a Denver Post article. I heard recently, not that it occurred recently, that BANKS , Big ones make much profits off prisoners, not the first time I’ve heard this. We are The UGLY Americans, aren’t we?

Please add Jocelyn Wiener’s series which includes the plight of mentally ill prisoners. Wiener writes, ” it’s not uncommon for seriously ill inmates to wait there for months, even after a judge orders them transferred to a state hospital.”

http://www.reportingonhealth.org/fellowships/projects/familys-never-ending-cycle

mohammad khan

July 5, 2012, 10:51 p.m.

human rights is not important for america.noam chomsky

An innocent man was released in Colorado after DNA testing and in prison for a crime he didn’t commit for 17 years. He got nothing. No training, education, nothing , not even money to get past the gate per the news article. Innocence Project is working on this as Colorado prisoners who are found innocent, no matter how much time they paid, get nothing upon release.
Human Rights ARE important in America and the world!
Corruption is NOT right in any country.

Prisons are breading grounds for goup criminal behaviour. the more prisons we build the more we will have to build. I suppose that is good for business and the banks——but I say Spend all the money we spend now prisons on education and rehabilitation and training… make prisons self supporting… . Eliminate the practice of human degredation. it is simply not to be tolerated by any decent free man.

Get Updates

Stay on top of what we’re working on by subscribing to our email digest.

optional

Our Hottest Stories

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •