Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Journalism Behind Bars

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

This month’s Utne Reader has a fascinating exploration into journalism in a place few expect it –America’s prison system. The story, “Shelf Life: The Toughest Beat,” by Danielle Maestrelli, takes a look at inmate-produced newsmagazines in U.S. prisons.

As the U.S. prison population has soared to more than 2.25 million, the number of publications has dwindled from a high of 250 in 1959 to fewer than 30 official prison newspapers today. At their height, some prison publications reached a circulation of 7,500 (the Mendard Time, from Illinois) and were the primary avenue by which incarcerated voices reached the outside. While stories often provide useful information for life behind bars, they have also included courageous exposes such as the piece, “Prison: The Sexual Jungle,” a 27-page essay that chronicled the systemic sexual violence typical of most prisons. This piece earned its authors at Louisiana's Angola penitentiary a 1980 George Polk Award.

Earlier this year MTF’s Journalism Program became a supporter of the youth-produced newsletter of the Consuella B. York Alternative High School, a Chicago Public School located within the Cook County Department of Corrections. Led by inspired English teacher Joyce Hutchens, teens at York produce 3&8 Voices. York Alternative typically has some 600 students enrolled during a semester, but due to its highly transient nature serves more than 14,000 students throughout a school year.

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