The Marshall Project is a nonprofit news organization focused on covering the criminal justice and immigration systems. We publish deeply reported investigations, explanatory and contextual pieces, narratives and profiles that put a human face on criminal justice. Over the past 12 months we have expanded into new forms of storytelling, launching our first television show and podcast, while also continuing our commitment to accountability journalism and investing in local communities.
Inside Story is our first-of-its-kind video series designed to bring information to one of America’s largest news deserts: prisons and jails. Co-created by Lawrence Bartley and Donald Washington, Jr.—both of whom were formerly incarcerated—the series is deeply reported, beautifully shot and includes feature segments, illuminating animations and thoughtful interviews. Most important, it was born of deep reporting on the largely ignored incarcerated audience and their information needs.
“Violation,” one of two podcasts we launched over the past year examines a little-known aspect of the justice system—parole boards—through one tragic case. Over seven episodes, we take listeners through a complex story that navigates victims’ rights, race, privilege, mental health, senseless violence—and how mass incarceration has morphed into mass supervision, with all the same pitfalls and politics.
We continued our commitment to accountability journalism with our two-year investigation into widespread violent behavior by correctional officers against prisoners. It took us a year and a lawsuit to get the 13,000 pages of court documents necessary to report our story, and then many more months to clean and verify the data. We also obtained arbitration decisions, invoices, use of force reports and other records. Our reporting definitively documented a culture of laxity on the part of corrections officials that allowed brutal officers to operate with impunity.
Our investment in local reporting continued with the establishment of Marshall Project – Cleveland, and our ongoing series on the Cuyahoga County Court system. While thousands walk through the Justice Center each year to have their felony cases heard by judges, the community has been blindfolded in trying to understand how systemic unfairness stacks up. Working with Wesley Lowrey we found that 70% of nearly 70,000 criminal court cases from 2016 to 2021 involved a defendant with at least one prior charge. While these defendants are mostly miscast as violent criminals, most repeat defendants commit nonviolent crimes borne out of untreated addiction and mental illness.
Finally, we spent more than three years developing and reporting “The Mercy Workers,” a rare look at a secretive profession of “mitigation specialists” who attempt to save prisoners from the death penalty. They unearth childhood trauma, mental illness, broad policy failures, and other material that persuades juries, and even prosecutors, to choose less severe sentences.
Reporter Maurice Chammah spent years developing trust with mitigation specialist Sara Baldwin, and worked with her to find an ethical way that he could watch her work in a single case. Chammah’s article is an emotionally immersive and meticulously reported look at what it takes to create a more merciful criminal justice system.
The judges were impressed with The Marshall Project’s investment in journalism that centers an undercovered and often unserved community, spending years building trust that has led to stories no other newsroom is telling. Not only is their journalism a true public service, the work they produce is beautiful too, with audio and visuals that elevate stories and give readers important context about complicated topics. The Marshall Project’s rigor in data acquisition and analysis, and their commitment to collaboration with local newsrooms across the country, are models for what we hope to see more of in journalism’s future.