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News and Awards

The Marshall Project Wins Prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Criminal Justice

The award recognizes our 2023 investigation exposing lax prison discipline for abusive guards in New York state prisons.

The Marshall Project has won the 2024 Robert F. Kennedy Award for Criminal Justice reporting for articles on prison guards who violently assault incarcerated people in New York prisons, and the failure of the corrections department to discipline the officers.

This is the first time The Marshall Project has won this prestigious award.

Our three-part series, “How New York’s Abusive Guards Keep Their Jobs,” published with The New York Times and three other news organizations in New York state, is the first systemic investigation of how a correctional department failed to discipline its officers. The series led to a proposal in the Legislature to give state officials the power to fire abusive guards.

“We’re deeply honored to win such a widely respected award with a series that exemplifies our commitment to rigorous accountability journalism,” said Susan Chira, The Marshall Project’s editor-in-chief. “Our team spent more than two years obtaining and analyzing data once hidden from the public, then ferreting out detailed accounts of abuse and impunity through patient, relentless reporting.”

Reporters Joseph Neff, Alysia Santo, Tom Meagher and Ilica Mahajan exposed a culture of laxity in which state prison officials accused officers of abusing people in their custody and then didn’t mete out consequences. When the New York corrections department tried to fire guards charged with abuse or cover-ups, it failed 90% of the time. And in many documented cases in which guards badly injured or killed prisoners, the department did not even try to punish the officers.

Jeesoo Park and Ben Laffin of The New York Times produced a video for the series on the cover-up of a bloody assault inside a New York prison.

In announcing the award, CNN analyst Van Jones played the video after quoting from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail”: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Jones said that The Marshall Project and The New York Times revealed “injustices today that are out of sight, because they are happening behind bars, happening to people who are in the same kind of jails that Dr. King was when he wrote that letter.”

The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. We have an impact on the system through journalism, rendering it more fair, effective, transparent and humane.

The RFK Book and Journalism Awards honor outstanding writing on issues that reflect the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s concerns, including “human rights, social justice and the power of individual action” in the United States and around the world.