Investigations of US Coast Guard, MS-13 Win 2019 John Jay Justice Reporting Awards

Seth Freed Wessler of Type Investigations, and Hannah Dreier of ProPublica are the winners of the 14th annual John Jay College/Harry Frank Guggenheim 2019 Awards for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting, Karol V. Mason, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, announced Monday.

“The enterprise and hard work of these journalists paid off with some powerful criminal justice stories,” said President Mason. “Independent reporters and the thorough investigations they conduct are a cornerstone in protecting the freedoms and rights of all Americans.

“In addition, these Harry Frank Guggenheim Award winners make clear the continuing importance of media in helping Americans understand today’s criminal justice challenges.”

The prizes, administered by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ), publisher of The Crime Report, recognize the previous year’s best print and online justice reporting in a U.S.-based media outlet between November 2017 and October 2018. Winning entries in each of the two categories share a cash award of $1,500 and a plaque. Runners-up (see below) receive certificates of Honorable Mention.

The 2019 Winners:

 Seth Freed Wessler

Seth Wessler

Seth Freed Wessler

Seth Freed Wessler, reporting for Type Investigations (formerly The Investigative Fund) has won the 2019 John Jay Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award (Single-Story Category) for “The Coast Guard’s Floating Guantánamos,” an investigation of the little-known practice of detaining low-level drug smugglers under reportedly inhumane conditions on U.S. Coast Guard cutters offshore. His reporting was originally published by The New York Times Magazine and then amplified with new reporting in collaboration with producer Kristin Nelson and documentary editor Joan Webber of The Current on CBC, Canada’s national broadcasting network.

Wessler’s year-long investigation involved culling thousands of pages of court filings and interviewing or corresponding with more than two dozen former detainees in U.S. prisons and in Ecuador. The result was “an entirely original and shocking story of government overreach,” commented one of this year’s jurors. Editor Esther Kaplan said the Coast Guard, “seemingly” in response to Wessler’s reporting, has since proposed using a dedicated prison ship to hold detainees, and she noted Canada has launched an investigation into allegations of mistreatment.

Hannah Dreier

Hannah Dreier of ProPublica won the 2019 John Jay Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award (Series Category) for her multi-part and multi-media investigation of flawed federal and local law enforcement practices in the struggle against the notorious MS-13 gang. Her first story, “A Betrayal,” published in collaboration with New York magazine, chronicled the tragedy of Henry, a teenager who had helped police arrest fellow gang members only to have his life endangered when law enforcement turned over his file to immigration authorities.

Hannah Dreier

Hannah Dreier

A second story, “The Disappeared,” in partnership with Newsday and This American Life, described the failure by local law enforcement to adequately investigate the murder by the gang of 15-year-old Miguel. Both cases illustrated the “carelessness and indifference” of authorities in dealing with the casualties of America’s stepped-up campaign against MS-13, said ProPublica Editor-in-Chief Stephen Engelberg in his nomination letter.

Both stores can be downloaded here.

Dreier’s articles had “extraordinary impact,” Engelberg added, noting that the Suffolk County, N.Y., police had launched an investigation into the mishandling of the investigations into the deaths of Miguel and others. “Hundreds of readers reached out to Henry offering jobs and a home…the Department of Homeland Security opened a civil rights investigation, and ICE said it would stop creating detailed gang memos.”


Two compelling investigative pieces from The Marshall Project (TMP) tied for this year’s Runner-Up place in the single-story category

 Alysia Santo was honored for a path-breaking year-long investigation into the operation of state victim compensation funds, and Joseph Neff earned the award for his investigation into the wrongful conviction, exoneration—and its tragic aftermath—of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two intellectually disabled half-brothers found innocent of a rape-murder charge after spending 30 years on North Carolina’s Death Row.

Alysia Santo
Alysia Santo

Alysia Santo

Alysia Santo’s story, “The Victims Who Don’t Count,” was published in USA Today and reprinted in 20 regional newspapers; and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting broadcast a 25-minute radio story on 460 public radio stations. Her exposé “showed for the first time that the rules governing the disbursement of victim’s compensation disproportionately hurt black crime victims,” TMP Editor Bill Keller said in his nomination letter.

Joseph Neff

Joseph Neff’s story, “The Price of Innocence,” which also appeared in The New York Times, explored how the two brothers were exploited by lawyers and supposed advocates after they were released.

Joseph Neff

Joseph Neff

Follow-ups on the story by WRAL-TV, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh-Durham, helped draw attention to their plight and led to an investigation by the North Carolina State Bar.

Not only did Neff’s reporting bring to light “one of the worst” examples of exoneree exploitation, but it highlighted a previously un-reported nationwide issue, Keller said: “Few states offer any post-release services or protection to the innocent, (and) those with disabilities or dysfunctional families shouldn’t have to rely on a diligent reporter to obtain the protection they need.”

Madeleine Baran, et al.

A team of investigative reporters and producers at American Public Media Reports was awarded the Runner-Up prize in the Series Category for their 11-episode project investigating the case of Curtis Flowers, a black man in Mississippi who is on Death Row for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. Based in Mississippi for nearly a year, the team produced their series for the second season of “In the Dark,” revealing misconduct by the local district attorney, as well as a 25-year pattern of malfeasance that included systematically striking African Americans from jury trials.

Madeline Baran

Madeleine Baran

“Our reporting reached millions of people and sparked conversations about the power of prosecutors, and the ways in which prosecutors can abuse that power,” wrote APM Reports editor Catherine Winter in her nomination letter, noting that the “In the Dark” podcasts have been downloaded by more than 31 million people. APM reporter Madeleine Baran will receive the Honorable Mention certificate in the name of APM’s 10-person reporting team.

 Prize Jury

 The jurors for this year’s prize were:

  • Alexa Capeloto, Associate Professor, John Jay College
  • Joe Domanick, Associate Director, CMCJ;
  • Ted Gest, President, Criminal Justice Journalists;
  • Ann Givens, of The Trace;
  • Katti Gray, contributing editor, The Crime Report;
  • Mark Obbie, a criminal justice writer and former executive editor of American Lawyer; and
  • Spencer Woodman of The Chicago Reader (co-winner of the 2018 Journalism Prize in the Single-Story Category) and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Wren Longno served as Administrator of this year’s awards.

Dinner Feb 21

The awards will be presented February 21, 2019 at a dinner in New York City, held in conjunction with the 14th annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America.

The dinner will also honor pioneer podcasters Sarah Koenig of Serial and Brittany Packnett of Pod Save the People as this year’s “Justice Media Trailblazers.”

Reservations for the dinner can be made here.

The awards will be presented by John Jay President Karol Mason, Serial co-producer Julie Snyder, Brooklyn NY activist Blair Imani, and emcee Errol Louis of NY1.



Prizes have been awarded annually since 2006 in two categories (Best Single Story and Best Series) for work in U.S. print, magazine and online media that has had a significant impact on criminal justice debate and policy. The prestigious $1,500 awards, unofficially called the “Pulitzers” of crime and justice journalism, are the only national journalism awards of their type, and are officially presented at a special dinner during the John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America.

The annual awards, sponsored by the nation’s pre-eminent academic institution on criminal justice, honor investigative, feature, analytical and enterprise journalism that has had a significant impact on public understanding of criminal justice issues.

The 2019 awards will be presented in conjunction with the John Jay/Harry F. Guggenheim Annual Symposium on Crime in America scheduled in February 2019. The awards are administered by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay, and judged by a panel of leading journalists and educators.  The $1,500 prizes are awarded in two categories:  Single Story and Series.

ELIGIBILITY: To be eligible for the prize, work must be published in a newspaper, magazine or online news outlet in the U.S. (broadcast reports are eligible if they contain a significant online dimension) between November 1, 2017 and October 31, 2018.

CRITERIA: The awards honor enterprise, analytical and investigative reporting work that has had a demonstrated impact on public understanding or public policy (local or national) in any area related to criminal justice.  Spot news stories may qualify if they advance the above criteria. Each submission can only be entered in one category, but multiple submissions from the same news outlets are accepted. All submissions must include a nominating letter from a supervising editor providing details that can help the judges assess the impact and significance of the work.

DEADLINE for 2020 prize: TBD

 COST OF ENTRY:  $75 per submission.

 TO ENTER:  Stories and accompanying material must be submitted as pdfs and uploaded to the entry form, with payment.

 JUDGES: Entries are judged by a panel of distinguished journalists and educators.

For further questions about eligibility, criteria, details of submission, etc.  please contact Wren Longno, prize administrator, at wlongno@gmail.com845-275-3828; or Ricardo Martinez, prize administrator,  at: , 646.557.4690

 PAST PRIZES:  A list of previous winners of the John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Award for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting, along with their work, can be seen below.



2018 Winners    Miami Herald  and Chicago Reader

View photos of the 2018 Trailblazer and Prize dinner here

2017 Winners    ProPublica and Mother Jones

2016 Winners   The Marshall Project and the Belleville News-Democrat

2015 Winners   The New Yorker and the Post and Courier (Charleston)

2014 Winners  The (Sarasota) Herald Tribune and the South Florida Sun Sentinel

2013 Winners   The Times-Picayune and Mother Jones

2012 Winners  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Mother Jones

2011 Winners   New York Magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer

2010 Winners  The Belleville News Democrat and the Austin Chronicle

2009 Winners  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Times Herald-Record

2008 Winners      The Denver Post and The Wall Street Journal

2007 Winners        The San Jose Mercury and The Sacramento Bee

2006 Winners      The Rocky Mountain News and the Boston Phoenix



Since 2013, The Crime Report  in collaboration with the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College has honored individuals from the media and related fields who have expanded public awareness about the challenges and complexities of criminal justice.

The 2018 Trailblazer was Bill Moyers.

Past winners have included David Simon, creator of “The Wire” (2013); Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black (2014);  Maria Hinojosa, PBS host and founder of Futuro Media (2015); and Jelani Cobb (2016), New Yorker writer and director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut;  Van Jones. of CNN.