April 03, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusive reporting on federal prisons amid COVID-19 fears

have dominated reporting on the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the dysfunction inside. Their latest exclusive used rich sourcing to reveal how the system is struggling to manage the coronavirus in federal prisons. The pair heard from inmates who said there has been little guidance on what to do if they experience symptoms, and very little social distancing. Corrections officers described a lack of supplies inside prisons, and rules on protective gear that vary widely from prison to prison. Balsamo and Sisak highlighted scattershot policies that show zero uniformity despite growing fears over outbreaks of the virus. https://bit.ly/2R1aOiG

March 20, 2020

Best of the Week

Italy teams lead the way on coronavirus coverage despite major obstacles

As sweeping restrictions and lockdown measures rolled out across the world in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, AP’s team of staff and freelancers in Italy set an example for how to produce compelling and competitive journalism in all formats despite major challenges affecting them both professionally and personally, including the very real risk of being placed in self-quarantine for covering stories in risk zones.

Three weeks into the Italian outbreak, AP produced some of the strongest coverage yet including multiple exclusives and beats across formats. That work included: How the northern town of Codogno greatly reduced the spread of the virus, a first-person account of the lockdown’s impact on families, overwhelmed doctors drawing parallels to war-time triage, rioting at Italian prisons, residents showing solidarity from their balconies, and more.

AP’s coverage throughout the crisis in Italy has consistently won heavy play online and in print.

For resourceful, dedicated and inspired journalism under unusually demanding circumstances, the Rome and Milan bureaus receive AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 13, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source: ‘You'll never believe it, we found the gun.’

delivered back-to-back scoops on the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the jail where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself, that is billed as one of the most secure in America.Balsamo and Sisak first learned through sources that the jail was on lockdown because of a report of a possible gun that had been smuggled inside. Next, they had a scoop when investigators looking for the gun found contraband instead, including cellphones, narcotics and homemade weapons. The spot news died down, but they stayed focused on the story and it paid off: A source called Balsamo and said off the record: “You'll never believe it, we found the gun!” The smuggled items marked a massive breach of prison protocol and raised serious questions about the security practices in place at the Bureau of Prisons.AP’s exclusive was used by virtually every major outlet. https://bit.ly/3aRDLVW

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Jan. 17, 2020

Best of the States

AP reveals chronic problems, personal stories behind a deadly period in Mississippi prisons

The Associated Press began chronicling rising violence across Mississippi’s troubled prison system in late 2019, but after four deaths in four days it became clear that something bigger was going on.

Reporters Jeff Amy and Emily Wagster Pettus explored the history of underfunding and other problems in the state’s prison system. In addition to official documents describing understaffing, the pair obtained photos and video shot by a prisoner that showed the conditions inside the infamous penitentiary at Parchman. 

AP also published all-formats interviews with grieving mothers of prisoners killed, and reported on the state’s decision to house inmates at a private prison.

For bringing much-needed insight and context to a chaotic, evolving situation and giving voice to those affected by the deadly violence, Amy and Wagster Pettus receive this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 04, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scoop: California prisons ending program to make peace among gangs

for reporting exclusively that the California prison system was ending a controversial program in which it had attempted to get inmates who were members of rival gangs to meet and mingle in outdoor recreation areas. Thompson documented a series of fights, brawls and riots in the prison system, and officials decided to suspend the program, acknowledging that it had not worked as intended. https://bit.ly/2AFGQrX

Aug. 30, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking news of top US prison official’s ouster after Epstein death

for breaking the news that the head of the long-troubled federal prison system was being removed in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Balsamo had been pressing sources at the Justice Department about the fate of Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons. Two guards and the warden had been disciplined, but nothing was said about the senior leadership. Balsamo worked up prep in case Hurwitz resigned or was fired.

Nine days after Epstein’s death, Balsamo heard from a source who had just met with Attorney General William Barr: Barr was going to remove Hurwitz. The decision was extremely sensitive; even Hurwitz didn't know yet. Balsamo had just a brief window to break the news before it became public, but because he had the prep in place, he was able to move quickly. AP had a 650-word story before any other outlet had even sent an alert. Hurwitz’s removal quickly became one of the top stories of the day, with Balsamo’s story receiving wide play, even by some news organizations with their own Justice Department reporters. https://bit.ly/2NBYC7k

April 19, 2019

Best of the States

FOIA checklist enables reporter to break news in case of missing boy’s impostor

Knowing what information can be obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIAs) from various public agencies is critical to breaking news. And keeping a checklist of those information gold mines is key to accessing that knowledge, Columbus, Ohio-based reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins has found.

Welsh-Huggins used those skills to great effect in the case of the man accused of pulling a cruel hoax by pretending to be a long-missing Illinois boy. The story captured the nation’s attention and set reporters in motion trying to flesh out the background of a 23-year-old ex-con who Ohio authorities say faked being Timmothy Pitzen. Pitzen was 6 years old when he disappeared in 2011.

Welsh-Huggins’ checklist for enterprise off the news includes FOIAs to all agencies a suspect has had contact with. He filed a FOIA with the Ohio corrections department to obtain access to the disciplinary records of suspect Brian Rini, knowing from experience that the agency would release them.

A few days later the agency handed him 15 disciplinary reports showing that Rini was someone who liked to fabricate stories – including things as mundane as being short of toilet paper and as serious as being raped by a guard.

The AP was alone with the story, which got strong play in Ohio and across the country.

For using his knowledge of FOIA to break news on this highly competitive story, Welsh-Huggins wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the Week

AP investigation reveals torture in Yemen’s Houthi rebel prisons

AP investigative reporter Maggie Michael has done landmark reporting on Yemen’s civil war throughout the past year, revealing abuses by the Saudi-led coalition that controls much of the south of the country.

But there had been a major gap in the coverage for all media: putting the same scrutiny on the other side in the conflict, the Houthi rebels who control the north. The Houthis impose strict controls on reporters, and sources are afraid to talk, problems that have prevented journalists from reporting in-depth on abuses carried out by the Houthis during the 4-year-old civil war.

Michael found another way. She and Cairo photographer Nariman El-Mofty travelled to the coalition-controlled city of Marib, where they could meet freely with victims of the Houthis who had fled the rebels’ rule. There, former prisoners described horrifying tortures at the hands of the Houthis. Nariman’s riveting visuals encapsulated the suffering, including photos of a man recovering from horrific acid burns, draped in red bandages.

The reporting, supported partly by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, was a breakthrough, as it has been rare to see atrocities by Houthis so prominently featured. Rather than denying the story, a top Houthi figure called for an investigation into allegations of torture in the movement’s prisons.

For their investigation that exposed in raw, excruciating detail the scope of torture committed by the Houthis, Michael and El-Mofty share AP's Best of the Week award.

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March 30, 2018

Best of the Week

AP analysis: At least 19,000 in Iraq detained for terrorism, thousands sentenced to death

Prisons in Iraq held thousands of Islamic State group militants, but few outside the government knew exactly how many. Baghdad-based reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra set out to find out – and he wasn’t going to take a rough estimate for an answer.

With Baghdad correspondent Susannah George and Mideast enterprise editor Lee Keath, Abdul-Zahara analyzed documents he obtained from a Justice Ministry official, finding that the government was holding at least 19,000 people accused of ISIS connections or other terror-related offenses and that more than 3,000 of them had been sentenced to death.

For intrepid source work and analysis to establish the facts around the imprisonment of thousands of Islamic State group militants in Iraq, Abdul-Zahra, George and Keath win Beat of the Week.

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June 29, 2017

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Breaking open UAE’s secret prisons in Yemen

for revealing the extent of the United Arab Emirates' network of secret prisons in southern Yemen – at least 18 black sites – and the pervasiveness of torture. Her work forced U.S. officials to confirm for the first time that American interrogators have questioned detainees from the prisons, a potential violation of international law that would counter efforts to disassociate the U.S. war on terror from the use of torture. http://apne.ws/2s5h22B

June 02, 2017

Best of the States

​Death row inmates' last words: Apologies, thanks, defiance

To most, inmates facing execution in America are just names, mug shots and written descriptions of their crimes.

AP was interested in going beyond that, seeking to tell their stories in creative ways that reach beyond our traditional audiences. To make that happen, a unique interactive created by Atlanta-based reporter Kate Brumback, Interactive Editor Nathan Griffiths and Interactive Producer Roque Ruiz takes people inside Georgia’s execution chamber to actually hear the last words of inmates right before they were put to death.

For their resourceful and compelling work, the team of Brumback, Griffiths and Ruiz receives this week's Best of the States award.

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Nov. 25, 2016

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

$1,000 Vivitrol injections given inmate addicts to prevent relapses, but do the shots work?

for first spotting news in a single line in a state Medicaid waiver form, and then chasing down and chronicling in text and video how prisons in the U.S. are experimenting with $1,000-per-shot Vivitrol injections to keeps inmate from falling back into addictions, even without iron-clad medical evidence that they work. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/prisons-fight-opioids-...

Sept. 16, 2016

Best of the Week

Hawaiian seafood caught by foreign crews confined on boats

AP’s Martha Mendoza, an investigative reporter based in Bangkok, and Margie Mason, medical writer in Jakarta, found that hundreds of undocumented men, many from impoverished Southeast Asian and Pacific nations, work in this U.S. fishing fleet. They have no visas and aren't protected by basic labor laws because of a loophole passed by Congress.

A story detailing the men’s plight, by Mendoza and Mason, resulted from a tip following their award-winning Seafood from Slaves investigation last year. It earns the Beat of the Week.

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