“Kids Imprisoned,” an investigation into juvenile justice in America, is the 2020 project of the Carnegie-Knight News21 program, a multimedia reporting project produced by the country’s top journalism students and graduates at Arizona State University.
Each year, students selected into the program report in-depth on a single topic of national importance, usually traveling to 30 or more states from the project’s base in Phoenix. This year, because of COVID-19, the 35 News21 fellows from 16 universities reported virtually from their hometowns or home campuses across the country, using video conferencing and cell phones for interviews.
They found innovative ways to produce a multimedia package of 23 main investigative and explanatory stories, 35 additional reports with photo illustrations, plus a seven-part podcast and several video stories. They also gathered family photographs, documents, artwork and creative writing from sources and made virtual portraits using projectors and video conferencing.
A key finding of this year’s eight-month investigation: Justice for juveniles is handed down disproportionately, depending on where they live, their race, which police officer arrests them, or which judge, prosecutor or probation officer happens to be involved in the case. Juvenile courts process nearly 750,000 cases each year.
About 200,000 of these involved detention – removing a young person from home and locking them up. Depending on where a young person lives, the same crime can result in something as mild as rehab and mentoring, or as severe as incarceration behind barbed wire in an environment of rioting and sexual abuse.
News 21 fellows investigated private companies that run programs in detention facilities, detention facility conditions, policing practices, employee misconduct and the impact of the juvenile justice system on families, communities and victims.
“This project reflects the tenacity of a new generation of young journalists who persisted despite a national pandemic, protests about race and policing, and restrictions that kept them from reporting in the field,” News21 Executive Editor Jacquee Petchel said.