The Inside/Out Journalism Project works with incarcerated reporters to produce feature-length investigations.

Type Investigations continues to expand its commitment to build a more inclusive journalism sector with the launch of the Inside/Out Journalism Project for incarcerated reporters. The Inside/Out Journalism Project produces rigorous investigative coverage of the criminal legal system from a vantage point not typically represented in mainstream media. 

“The Inside/Out Journalism Project is challenging traditional assumptions about incarcerated writers by removing barriers that too often limit the scope and reach of their reporting,” said Type Investigations assistant editor Nina Zweig, who spearheaded the project. “With editorial support, research assistance, expert fact-checking, and fair pay, this project helps incarcerated reporters take on ambitious, feature-length investigative projects.”

Inside/Out drew on the expertise of other organizations working with incarcerated writers, like the volunteer-run Empowerment Avenue, and identified a significant gap in the industry that Type was uniquely positioned to fill. 

Nearly two million people are currently incarcerated in the U.S. Their worlds are largely hidden from public view, a problem that intensified during the pandemic. Yet incarcerated reporters rarely receive the resources and support to take on investigative reporting behind bars and publish their findings in outside media outlets. Often, outlets only give them the chance to write op-eds or personal essays.

Many incarcerated writers already have the necessary skills for investigative reporting and they have access to information outside journalists do not. But reporting from inside prison comes with unique hurdles. Most reporters do not have access to the internet. Filing public records requests while incarcerated can be prohibitively difficult, and using prison phones for interviews racks up enormous fees.  

“Our team has the time, resources, and expertise to help reporters bridge that gap,” said Aviva Shen, Type Investigations’s deputy editor.

Since launching the project, Type has spent over $550 on prison phone calls and emails, as well as hundreds of dollars on postage, to communicate with reporters and their sources. So far, reporters, researchers, and editors have submitted 44 public records requests. 

In the coming year, Type will continue to commission more stories from incarcerated reporters, such as Chris Blackwell at Washington Correctional Center. Blackwell came up with the name of the initiative and is working on his own investigation set to run later this year. 

“Working with Type helped me see deeper into the construction of investigative journalism. Being in prison, limited by my access to the free world, I often hear or see harms taking place I want to address, but rarely have the ability to do so. Type offered that,” Blackwell said. “Working with Type sharpened my skills as an incarcerated journalist, and offered me an immeasurable amount of resources.”

For the project’s inaugural investigation, Juan Haines, senior editor at the award-winning San Quentin News, and journalist Katie Rose Quandt report on San Quentin State Prison’s harshest death row solitary unit.  The story reveals how the prison continues to routinely isolate people infected or exposed to COVID in its notorious Adjustment Center. Haines interviewed dozens of people who described being trapped in dirty cells under conditions that felt punitive—sometimes while battling serious cases of COVID. The story was produced in partnership with The American Prospect and San Quentin News. San Quentin News will also distribute the story to the incarcerated community in their November print issue.

“For me and other journalists on the inside, working with an organization that’s committed to reporting on undertold, underreported, understaffed, underfunded, totally ignored populations, is incredibly helpful,” said Haines. “My job as a journalist is to tell stories about my neighbors. And right now, my neighbors are incarcerated people.”

Read the investigation.