The Society of Professional Journalists announced Thursday that investigative series from ProPublica and ProPublica Illinois won three Sigma Delta Chi Awards. The awards honor exceptional professional journalism produced in 2018, with entries spanning television and radio broadcasts, newspapers, online news outlets and magazines.
“Stuck Kids” was recognized with the award for Online Non-Deadline Reporting (Independent). The series, led by ProPublica Illinois reporter Duaa Eldeib, revealed how the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has struggled to find appropriate homes for young people with mental illness, often holding children and teens in psychiatric hospitals even after they’ve been cleared for release. While they’re trapped in these hospitals, the children, who often endure severe trauma before entering child protective care, miss out on schooling and slip behind their peers in social and behavioral development. The prolonged stays deny the children their right under Illinois law to live in the “least restrictive” setting. Several actions resulted from the reporting. Among them, the Cook County public guardian filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the children stuck in psychiatric hospitals, and DCFS’ own inspector general launched an investigation.
The “Driven Into Debt” series, initiated by ProPublica Illinois and continued in partnership with WBEZ Chicago, received the award for Online Investigative Reporting (Independent). The investigation found that the city of Chicago has been driving its poorest citizens into bankruptcy through ticketing practices that unfairly target black neighborhoods and motorists who can least afford the steep fines and fees. ProPublica Illinois reporter Melissa Sanchez and WBEZ Chicago’s digital editor Elliott Ramos collaborated on the series, which has spurred a number of policy proposals and reforms, including city officials announcing they would dismiss tickets or refund motorists for 35,000 duplicate citations.
In addition, “Case Cleared,” a joint investigation from Newsy, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, was honored with the award for Online Investigative Reporting (Affiliated). The investigation uncovered how dozens of cities in America are making many rape cases look as if they are solved without actually arresting a suspect. “Case Cleared” found that in those cities, exceptional clearance, a type of clearance intended to be the exception, has become the rule for closing rape cases. The reporting led the FBI to expedite a process to reform National Incident-Based Reporting System rules in a way that is expected to require the nation’s police agencies to report unfounded crimes. Local police departments across the country are also looking at their process and making changes to how sexual assault cases are cleared. ProPublica reporter Bernice Yeung, Reveal’s Emily Harris, and Newsy’s Mark Greenblatt and Mark Fahey contributed to the project.
To learn more about the Sigma Delta Chi Awards and see a full list of winners, visit the Society of Professional Journalists’ website.