Three ProPublica projects won Deadline Club awards in the annual contest honoring the best work by journalists in the New York City area.
“Lost Mothers,” a collaboration with NPR about the maternal mortality crisis in the U.S., won for public interest. The yearlong project explored why the U.S., which spends more per capita on health care than any other country, also has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world. With stories by ProPublica reporters Nina Martin, Adriana Gallardo and Annie Waldman, as well as NPR special correspondent Renee Montagne, the series included intimate narratives of mothers who perished after failing to receive basic care; data analysis that established beyond a doubt the greater risks faced by African-American women; and a first-of-its kind database of the personal stories behind this issue.
The series spurred significant impact. State and local lawmakers around the country have adopted a flurry of bills aimed at reforming how maternal deaths are identified and investigated. Indiana, Oregon, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania passed laws creating maternal mortality review committees to scrutinize deaths and near-deaths among expectant and new mothers, and make policy recommendations to improve maternal health. Similar bills are pending in Connecticut and New Jersey. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which sets standards of care for obstetrician-gynecologists, also released sweeping new recommendations for improving maternal care.
“Walking While Black,” a collaboration with the Florida Times-Union by Topher Sanders and Ben Conarck on racial profiling in the issuing of pedestrian tickets, won in the minority focus category. The story examined Jacksonville, Florida’s enforcement of pedestrian violations, showing sharp racial disparities in who gets stopped and penalized.
Sanders and Conarck looked into the issue after the emergence of viral video showing an African-American man receiving a ticket for jaywalking and not having an ID while crossing a street. The reporters found that these encounters are common in Jacksonville, which has 28 separate statutes governing how people walk in the city — including failing to cross a street at a right angle, and for not walking on the left side of a road when there are no sidewalks. Their analysis, using data from local and state agencies, also showed that these pedestrian tickets were disproportionately issued to black residents, almost all of them in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
After the story, Jacksonville Assistant State Attorney Andrew Kantor issued a bulletin to the city’s sheriff’s office detailing the proper enforcement of Florida’s pedestrian statutes, and the Jacksonville City Council president and other local lawmakers called for the suspension of pedestrian ticket writing.
“What Are We Going to Do About Tyler?,” by Sarah Smith, on mental health care in Mississippi’s criminal justice system, won for newspaper or digital feature reporting. The story examined how mentally ill defendants in Mississippi, who have been accused of crimes but not yet convicted, endure lengthy wait times in county jails — sometimes for years — before getting forensic evaluations. Smith focused on the case of Tyler Haire, who was locked up at 16 when a Mississippi judge ordered that he undergo a mental exam. Tyler’s evaluation would not happen for 3 1/2 years.
Smith’s review of the records revealed that Mississippi may well have the worst record of any state for prolonged stays in jail for inmates awaiting the most basic psychiatric evaluation. The state’s wait list shows that as of Aug. 2017, 102 defendants — accused, but not yet convicted, of various crimes — were waiting in county jails for forensic evaluations. One had waited 1,249 days, another 1,173 days, still another 879.
See a list of all the 2018 Deadline Club Award winners here.