George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer of the Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat and Jordan Smith of the Austin Chronicle are the winners of the College’s 2010 Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Awards.
The awards presentation was held Monday, February 1, 2010 at a luncheon held in conjunction with the 5th annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium: Criminal Justice Reform: What’s Working? What’s Not? What Don’t We Know? hosted by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ).
Pawlaczyk and Hundsdorfer won in the Series category for “Trapped in Tamms,” their hard-hitting multi-part investigation last fall of the Tamms Correctional Center, Illinois’ only state-run supermax prison. Following Pawlaczyk’s and Hundsdorfer’s reporting, which found that prison conditions, such as lengthy stays of solitary confinement—particularly for mentally ill offenders—were comparable to those of foreign terror suspects held at Guantanamo, the Illinois Department of Corrections announced a 10-point program to improve aspects of inmate treatment.
The series was the result of over eight months of “hard work, and a lot of weekends and nights,” said News-Democrat City Editor Gary Dotson, adding that there was little public sympathy when the stories first ran. “A lot of people were of the mind that you do the crime, you do the crime, but they missed the point,” he said.
Jordan Smith won in the Single Story category for “Imaginary Fiends: Believing the Children,” for her investigation into the 1992 conviction of Fran and Danny Keller for multiple counts of child sex abuse at their Austin day care center. As a result of her article, published Jan. 27, 2009, the Texas Innocence Project is hoping to reopen the case, which “remains an object lesson in what can happen during periodic panics about child abuse or similar crimes,” said Chronicle News Editor Michael King in his nomination letter.
“Our annual awards represent the only formal national recognition of superior criminal justice reporting,” said Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College. “This year’s winners join our honor roll of journalists whose work has had a dramatic impact on their communities and the criminal justice system.”
Stephen Handelman, director of John Jay’s Center on Media Crime and Justice, added that the winning entries demonstrate that even in an era of news industry cost-cutting, investigative and in-depth criminal justice journalism continues to be an important focus across the nation. “We received a record number of entries this year, from both large and small outlets,” added Handelman. “And our jury reports they had a tough time choosing the finalists.”
Honorable mention in the series category was awarded to David Kaplan and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (Center for Public Integrity) for their report, “Tobacco Underground: The Booming Global Trade in Smuggled Cigarettes,” which involved a team of 22 journalists working in 14 countries. Sean Gardiner of City Limits Investigates was the runner-up in the single-story category for “Buy and Bust: New York City’s War on Drugs at 40.”
The distinguished panel of six judges for the 2010 awards included: Paul Butler, Carville Dickinson Benson Research Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School; Alexa Capeloto, assistant professor of journalism at John Jay College and former Enterprise Editor at the San Diego Union-Tribune; Joe Domanick, veteran crime author and reporter, associate director of the CMCJ and journalism instructor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication; Ted Gest, president, Criminal Justice Journalists; Martin Horn, former New York City commissioner, Department of Correction and Distinguished Lecturer at John Jay College; and Eric Nalder, director of investigations for Hearst Newspapers, a two-time Pulitzer winner and winner (series category) of the 2009 John Jay Excellence in Criminal Justice reporting award.