For Blacks Facing Parole in New York State, Signs of a Broken System

Michael Winerip, Michael Schwirtz and Robert Gebeloff, For Blacks Facing Parole in New York State, Signs of a Broken System. Part 2. The New York Times, 4 December 2016. “An analysis by The New York Times of thousands of parole decisions from the past several years found that fewer than one in six black or Hispanic men was released at his first hearing, compared with one in four white men. It is a disparity that is particularly striking not for the most violent criminals, like rapists and murderers, but for small-time offenders who commit property crimes like stealing a television from a house or shoplifting from Duane Reade — precisely the people many states are now working to keep out of prison in the first place.”

Update: Michael Schwirtz, Michael Winerip and Robert Gebeloff, Governor Cuomo Orders Investigation of Racial Bias in N.Y. State Prisons. The New York Times, 5 December 2016. “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced on Monday that he was ordering an investigation into racial bias in the state prison system after an investigation by The New York Times found that black inmates were punished at significantly higher rates than whites, sent to solitary confinement more often and held there longer. “I am directing the state inspector general to investigate the allegations of racial disparities in discipline in state prisons and to recommend appropriate reforms for immediate implementation,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement issued on Monday, calling the report “disturbing.””

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The Scourge of Racial Bias in New York State’s Prisons

Michael Schwirtz, Michael Winerip and Robert Gebeloff, The Scourge of Racial Bias in New York State’s Prisons. Part 1. The New York Times, 3 December 2016. “The racism can be felt from the moment black inmates enter New York’s upstate prisons. They describe being called porch monkeys, spear chuckers and worse. There are cases of guards ripping out dreadlocks. One inmate, John Richard, reported that he was jumped at Clinton Correctional Facility by a guard who threatened to “serve up some black mashed potatoes with tomato sauce.””

Update: Michael Schwirtz, Michael Winerip and Robert Gebeloff, Governor Cuomo Orders Investigation of Racial Bias in N.Y. State Prisons. The New York Times, 5 December 2016. “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced on Monday that he was ordering an investigation into racial bias in the state prison system after an investigation by The New York Times found that black inmates were punished at significantly higher rates than whites, sent to solitary confinement more often and held there longer. “I am directing the state inspector general to investigate the allegations of racial disparities in discipline in state prisons and to recommend appropriate reforms for immediate implementation,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement issued on Monday, calling the report “disturbing.””

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Busted: How a $2 Roadside Drug Test Sends Innocent People to Jail

Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders, How a $2 Roadside Drug Test Sends Innocent People to Jail. ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine, 7 July 2016. “This story was co-published with The New York Times Magazine…. Tens of thousands of people every year are sent to jail based on the results of a $2 roadside drug test. Widespread evidence shows that these tests routinely produce false positives. Why are police departments and prosecutors still using them?”

Update, August 2016: Sidney Awards, Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders Win August Sidney for Exposing Faulty Roadside Drug Tests that Send Innocent People to Jail.

“Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders of ProPublica win the August Sidney for “Busted: How $2 Roadside Drug Tests Send Innocent People to Jail.”

“The story, co-published with the New York Times Magazine, found that faulty roadside drug tests send thousands of people to jail every year. These tests are so unreliable that they are inadmissible in court, yet motorists plead guilty based on tests that can be tripped false positive by dozens of common, legal chemicals, including household cleaners.

A false positive test for crack cocaine turned Amy Albritton’s life upside down. The 43-year-old property manager had no criminal record until a particle on the floor of her car falsely tested positive for crack cocaine. Follow-up tests pegged the substance as food debris, possibly a breadcrumb.

There’s no way to know how many wrongful convictions arise from false roadside results, but as Gabrielson noted in an interview with the Backstory, “even the smallest of false positive rates would produce hundreds annually.””

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Chicago After Laquan McDonald

Ben Austen, Chicago After Laquan McDonald. The New York Times Magazine, 20 April 2016. “In the wake of a shocking video that showed a black teenager shot 16 times by a police officer, the city is rocked by revelations of police brutality and misconduct–and by activists determined to upend the political order.”

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The Year in Hate and Extremism–2015

Mark Potok, The Year in Hate and Extremism. Southern Poverty Law Center, 17 February 2016. “The number of hate and antigovernment ‘Patriot’ groups grew last year, and terrorist attacks and radical plots proliferated. Charleston. Chattanooga. Colorado Springs. In these towns and dozens of other communities around the nation, 2015 was a year marked by extraordinary violence from domestic extremists — a year of living dangerously. Antigovernment militiamen, white supremacists, abortion foes, domestic Islamist radicals, neo-Nazis and lovers of the Confederate battle flag targeted police, government officials, black churchgoers, Muslims, Jews, schoolchildren, Marines, abortion providers, members of the Black Lives Matter protest movement, and even drug dealers.”

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Missing and Murdered: The Trafficked (in Canada)

Tavia Grant, Missing and Murdered: The Trafficked. The Globe and Mail, 10 February 2016. “Indigenous women and girls are being exploited by gangs and other predators with little being done to stop it. Missing and Murdered: The Trafficked: The story behind our investigation into the exploitation of indigenous women and girls, by Tavia Grant, 10 February 2016: “The Trafficked project sprang from an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. In the course of that reporting, the issue of human trafficking surfaced as a factor that puts some aboriginal women at even greater risk of disappearing or being killed. The Globe and Mail spent three months investigating the subject, dedicating one reporter full-time to delve into who the victims are, how the crime is committed, what the long-term impact is and how the federal government has responded.”

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Baby Doe: Why Can’t We Stop Child Abuse?

Jill Lepore, Baby Doe: Why Can’t We Stop Child Abuse? The New Yorker, 1 February 2016. “Last June [2015], a woman walking her dog on Deer Island, in Boston Harbor, came across a black plastic garbage bag on the beach. Inside was a very little girl, dead. The woman called for help and collapsed in tears. Police searched the island; divers searched the water; a medical examiner collected the body. The little girl had dark eyes and pale skin and long brown hair. She weighed thirty pounds. She was wearing white-and-black polka-dot pants. She was wrapped in a zebra-striped fleece blanket. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said that no child matching her description had been reported missing. “Someone has to know who this child is,” an official there said. But for a very long time no one did.”

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How Did the Flint Water Crisis Happen?

Cynthia Gordy, How Did the Flint Water Crisis Happen? ProPublica, 25 January 2016. “The water crisis in Flint, Michigan – in which the city’s drinking water became contaminated with lead, bacteria and other pollutants – has come to national attention in recent weeks. President Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint, freeing up $5 million in federal aid, but Flint’s water problems have been unfolding for almost two years. Ron Fonger, reporter for The Flint Journal and MLive, has been writing about the water contamination since 2014, when the city began using the Flint River as its water source. From covering city council meetings and town hall forums, where almost immediately residents complained about discolored, tainted water, he has had a front-row seat to the crisis. On this week’s podcast, Fonger speaks with ProPublica editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg about what caused the problem, who dropped the ball, and what happens next.”

Other resources:

Anna Clark, How an investigative journalist helped prove a city was being poisoned with its own water. Columbia Journalism Review, 3 November 2015. “It was not a typical evening of reporting. In early September [2015], Curt Guyette was knocking on unfamiliar doors in Flint, Michigan—not to ask for interviews, but to ask residents to test their water for lead. Local activists were doing the same thing on sidewalks nearby, and in other parts of town. The task: Muster tests from as many ZIP Codes as possible to give a complete picture of what, exactly, was flowing out of the taps in Flint.”

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The Counted: the number of people killed by police in the U.S. in 2015

Jon Swaine, Oliver Laughland, Jamiles Lartey, Ciara McCarthy, The Counted. The Guardian US, 31 December 2015. From the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy: ” The Guardian documented the number of people killed by police in the U.S., telling the stories of who they were, and establishing the hidden trends in how they died, through a database, special reports, and multimedia. The investigation’s final tally for 2015 of 1,134 deaths was two and a half times greater than the last annual total recorded by the FBI. After the publication of “The Counted,” the FBI announced at the end of 2015 that it would overhaul its system of counting killings by police. The Department of Justice also began testing a new program for recording arrest-related deaths, drawing on Guardian data.”

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Investigation: [Fatal] Police Shootings in the US in 2015

The Washington Post, Investigation: [Fatal] Police Shootings [in 2015 in the US] The database is updated regularly. 2015. About this story: “How The Washington Post is examining police shootings in the U.S.30 June 2015. “The Washington Post is compiling a database of every fatal shooting in the United States by a police officer in the line of duty in 2015.”

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.

Winner of the 2015 George Polk Award for National Reporting.

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