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ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune Win Worth Bingham Prize

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University announced Thursday that Jodi S. Cohen of ProPublica and Jennifer Smith Richards of the Chicago Tribune are the winners of the Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism for their investigation “The Price Kids Pay.” The Bingham Prize honors investigative reporting of stories of national significance where the public interest is being ill-served.

In their investigation, Cohen and Smith Richards exposed a loophole that for years allowed police in Illinois to routinely issue tickets to children for minor misbehavior, circumventing a 2015 state law that bans schools from fining students as a form of discipline. Instead of fining students directly, schools referred incidents to police, who ticketed students nearly 12,000 times in the school years ending in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Dozens of school districts, the reporters found, broke state law by referring students to police for truancy.

In exposing this statewide practice, the reporters, along with ProPublica news applications developer Ruth Talbot, built a first-of-its-kind database, providing the public with the most comprehensive data set ever of the tickets issued in the state’s schools.

The investigation prompted Illinois education officials to call for an end to school-based ticketing, the state attorney general to initiate a civil rights investigation into a suburban school district northwest of Chicago, and state lawmakers to rethink when police should be involved in student discipline. Subsequent parts of the series revealed how Black students were disproportionately likely to be ticketed and looked closely at the Garrison School, where employees call police on students every other school day, on average. Following the investigation, the U.S. Department of Education opened a civil rights investigation.

“‘The Price Kids Pay’ has it all — personal stories, data reporting, scope and specificity. The reporting revealed dramatic racial disparities in who’s ticketed,” said Bingham Prize judge Julia Lurie. “Many municipalities collect on unpaid debt, with long-lasting effects on already-struggling families. To me, this is accountability reporting at its finest: It shows the immense harm caused by a common, predatory, previously unexamined practice and it provoked an immediate response.”

Learn more about the Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism here.

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