The Marshall Project has long featured the work of incarcerated writers, but it is equally vital to reach incarcerated readers. The largest news desert in the country is the one behind bars; people in prisons and jails have tremendously limited access, if any, to books, the internet, and other reading materials. What news might reach them rarely focuses on the issues affecting them as a community. The Marshall Project’s reporting on the criminal justice system and policy is profoundly relevant and useful to the millions of people incarcerated in this country.
So in early 2019, we launched a new publication, News Inside, that curates our work for circulation within participating correctional facilities four times a year. News Inside is the brainchild of Lawrence Bartley, who joined The Marshall Project in 2018 after serving 27 years in prison. Working with The Marshall Project’s editorial team, he selects recent Marshall Project articles that are both relevant to incarcerated readers and will be approved by the administrators who select what prisoners can read. Lawrence also works with a designer to ensure that New Inside is a beautifully produced publication that includes graphics and photography that will connect with its readers.
Since the inaugural edition of News Inside in February 2019, the publication has grown exponentially. As a result of Lawrence’s efforts News Inside is now available in over 450 facilities across 38 states and Canada. We also entered into a partnership with the nonprofit tablet company, Edovo, which works with jails and prisons and has greatly extended our distribution.
Once News Inside launched, we realized that it was important for us to engage with our readers, and to create innovative pathways for the incarcerated community to contribute meaningfully to our reporting. This led to the creation of two projects. We asked our incarcerated readers to write essays reflecting on their environment, or “what they see” when they look outside. These essays can be literal or reflect an interior landscape, and will be published in the future alongside commissioned art. Responses range from “A light of hope” to “[A] very hard life being released … with only one hundred dollars, and no place to go.”
Our second project, developed in partnership with Slate, was an ambitious survey of the U.S. incarcerated population about their political views. The survey appeared in our third edition and generated thousands of responses – either electronically via the Edovo tablet, or through a partnership that we established with the postal service. It was the largest survey of incarcerated people’s political views that has ever been undertaken by a media organization, and allowed a community of men and women behind bars the opportunity to share their views for the first time. We published the findings in an ambitious package with Slate in March 2020.
For giving incarcerated people access to news stories that are relevant to their lives, we are proud to nominate News Inside for the Online News Association Online Journalism Gather Award in Engaged Journalism.