Illinois Public Media wins Regional Edward R. Murrow Award

May 14, 2020
 

The Illinois Newsroom series “Educating the Imprisoned,” which uncovered some of the barriers formerly and currently incarcerated individuals in Illinois face when it comes to education, has won a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Best News Series.

The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) has honored this series of reports by WILL Education Reporter Lee V. Gaines. Throughout 2019, Gaines examined a wide array of obstacles around receiving an education during and/or after incarceration. Her reports included revealing the hurdles of attaining an education with a felony record and heroin addiction; what would happen if prisoners were eligible to receive Pell Grants again; and the value of a college-in-prison program beyond recidivism numbers.

“I’m thrilled that Lee V. Gaines is being honored in this way. Every day in our newsroom, Lee strives to make sure under-represented communities are covered and the powerful are held accountable,” said Reginald Hardwick, director of news and public affairs for Illinois Public Media. “Her series was reported with compassion, but she persisted to get answers and didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Journalists like Lee are making a difference for Illinoisans.”

Research has shown that providing people with educational opportunities in prison reduces the likelihood that they'll return once released. Gaines says she began this series armed with anecdotal evidence that, despite the potential benefits to both prisoners and taxpayers, educational opportunities in Illinois state prisons are few and far between.

Lee V. Gaines

“I've spoken to dozens of currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, educators who teach inside prisons, researchers who study this issue, and administrators at Illinois prisons and state correctional facilities across the country,” Gaines continued. “Aside from documenting the barriers to an education inside state prisons, I've come away from this project with a deeper understanding of the transformative impact of a post-secondary education, especially for those whom many have deemed a lost cause.”

The series shifted focus in May 2019 when Gaines discovered more than 200 books, mostly about race, had been removed from an Illinois college-in-prison program's library. She broke the story, which subsequently drew national attention. Gaines focused on getting to the bottom of why the books were removed and followed developments as the Illinois Department of Corrections moved to revise its publication review policy.

“It's been a privilege to report this series, and I'm appreciative of the recognition from the Radio Television Digital News Association. I am also deeply grateful for my colleagues and supervisors at WILL who trusted me enough to provide the resources necessary to do this series justice,” concluded Gaines.

Illinois Newsroom is powered by Illinois Public Media/WILL and provides news about Illinois as well as in-depth reporting on agriculture, education, the environment, health and politics. Part of “Educating the Imprisoned” was supported by a fellowship Gaines received from the Education Writers Association.

This series is now advancing to the National Murrow Award competition.