The Better Government Association announced this week that two investigative projects from ProPublica – “The Price Kids Pay” and “Culture of Cruelty” – are among four finalists for the Richard H. Driehaus Awards for Investigative Reporting. The awards honor achievements in government-related investigative journalism from newsrooms across Illinois.
In “The Price Kids Pay,” ProPublica reporter Jodi S. Cohen and Chicago Tribune reporter Jennifer Smith Richards examined school-based ticketing in Illinois, documenting more than 12,000 tickets issued to students from 2019 to 2021. Dozens of school districts in Illinois, 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.
In March, new legislation was introduced by the Illinois House that would amend the state’s school code to make it illegal for school personnel to involve police to issue students citations for incidents that can be addressed through a school’s disciplinary process.
“Culture of Cruelty,” a collaboration between ProPublica, Lee Enterprises Midwest and Capitol News Illinois, revealed a culture of abuse and cover-ups at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in rural southern Illinois. Reporters Molly Parker, who is a Distinguished Fellow with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, and Beth Hundsdorfer detailed the beatings of patients, a concerted effort by some staff members to cover up abuse and serious neglect, the intimidation of employees who reported it and the attempt to coerce new employees into participating in the abuse or being silent about it.
Following months of reporting, state officials, including Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, acknowledged that news reporting had put a spotlight on the conditions at the center for people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. The Illinois Department of Human Services plans to dramatically reduce the number of patients with developmental disabilities who live at the embattled state-run facility. That process will start with the relocation of 123 residents with developmental disabilities who entered the facility voluntarily — roughly half the current population.
See a list of all Driehaus Foundation Awards finalists.