The Type Investigations Inside/Out Journalism Project produces rigorous coverage of the criminal legal system from a vantage point not typically represented in mainstream media. In doing so, we challenge traditional assumptions about incarcerated writers and remove barriers that too often limit the scope and reach of their reporting. With editorial support, research assistance, expert fact-checking, and fair pay, this project gives incarcerated reporters the resources to take on ambitious, feature-length investigative projects.
The kernel of this project arose when Assistant Editor Nina Zweig pitched an idea at our retreat: since Type Investigations’s mission is to support and guide freelance reporters, often from communities underrepresented in investigative journalism, why not offer these resources to incarcerated journalists as well?
For advice on how to work with incarcerated writers, Type reached out to Empowerment Avenue, a volunteer-run cohort that pairs incarcerated reporters and writers with outside journalists, who serve as conduits between their partners and publications. EA aims to place incarcerated writers’ work in national outlets and ensure that they’re paid fairly for their writing.
Through conversations with EA, we discovered a significant gap in the industry that Type is uniquely positioned to fill. Many outlets that are interested in working with incarcerated writers only want to publish personal essays or op-eds. Even stories built on original reporting often are shunted to publications’ opinion sections. One side effect of this practice is that incarcerated writers often receive only modest fees for their work; another is that there’s relatively little investigative reporting by incarcerated journalists published, especially in mainstream outlets.
Reporting from inside prison also comes with unique hurdles. Most people in prison do not have access to the internet. Incarcerated journalists who want to interview sources over the phone face exorbitant costs, and filing public records requests from prison can be prohibitively difficult. Pitching media outlets without outside help is also daunting. And incarcerated journalists can face retaliation for writing truthfully about what they uncover.
With our industry in dire financial straits, most newsrooms can’t provide the level of support that incarcerated reporters need. Our research team at Type has the time, resources, and expertise to help reporters augment their investigations with public records, legal documents, and data.
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.
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.