by Jenna Deml
In March 2019, The Marshall Project (TMP) launched NewsInside, a print publication distributed in prisons and jails. Inspired by his own experience as an incarcerated individual, founder and director Lawrence Bartley sought to bridge the information gap between prisoners and the outside world. Incarcerated individuals have limited access to updated books and encyclopedias, as well as restriction from internet use. In light of this, articles in each issue are a collection of TMP’s award-winning journalism that relates directly to incarcerated lives.
Project Goals: The ultimate goal of the project is to expand the learning opportunities for incarcerated individuals. Particularly those who, in the words of Bartley, “believe study is a chance for redemption, who sacrifice sleep and risk a misbehavior report to pore over textbooks under shaded lamps after lights-out, who struggle to find resources to expand their minds.”
Tools & Technology: In addition to the print publication, NewsInside uses Edovo, which utilizes secure tablet technology; and Pay Tel, a telecommunications company used exclusively for correctional facilities. Both NewsInside and Inside Story (TMP’s video news program) are uploaded onto the tablets as courses for their educational programs. After reading articles and viewing a segment of the video, a question appears that the learner must answer correctly to earn credits. Those credits can then be used to purchase entertainment.
Impact: According to Bartley, impact among incarcerated communities is not measured in the traditional sense; but instead by the success stories their readers report. Ranging from the utilization of their stories to support legal arguments; to inspiration to turn their backs on a life of crime. Bartley specifically recalled one individual who wrote to him, stating how he thought he was resigned to a life of crime. Then one of his cellmates told him to check out NewsInside, as it might change his perspective. He raced to the library quickly, and upon reading it, he was inspired to turn his life around, and found entry services to direct his way. As far as metrics, NewsInside is now distributed in 41 states and 636 facilities throughout the country.
Organization Background: Founded in 2014 and named for former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the eponymous 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. They achieve this through award-winning journalism, partnerships with other news outlets and public forums. They strive to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice.
Project Resources: Approximately 600K per year, obtained from grants and TMP donors. There is limited personnel in this newsroom, with four staff members and four freelancers in total.
Here’s How it Happened
While incarcerated, Bartley was encouraged to write an essay for TMP’s Life Inside about the prospect of freedom after 27 years in the system, and his upcoming parole hearing. Upon publication of the essay, he talked directly to the TMP staff about his experiences. He subsequently joined TMP and spearheaded the production of NewsInside.
Here’s What Worked
1. Spreading the word
After attending a conference composed of state prison commissioners, Bartley obtained blanket approvals to ship magazines to 4 states and over 150 facilities.
2. Surveying incarcerated people on their political leanings
NewsInside wanted to ask their readers how they felt about certain sociopolitical issues pertaining to their lives. Examples included legalizing marijuana, gun control, and even their party alliances. This yielded over 8000 respondents before they stopped counting. In light of this, some myths were dispelled, such as the fact that not all incarcerated individuals are Democrats or necessarily liberal. This survey eventually fueled four stories and laid the foundation for two additional surveys and a series of articles. In addition, it received an honorable mention from the 2020 Philip Meyer Awards.
Here’s What Could Have Worked Better
1. Presenting at the state prison commissioner conference
Although Bartley attended the conference, presenting to the wider audience would increase the number of states they onboard. Bartley recalled giving a “quick elevator pitch” to various commissioners during breaks in between other presentations. But not everyone could be reached. So it would be an improvement to have the floor and everyone’s complete attention.
2. Finding additional means for survey distribution
With COVID presenting a whole new challenge in the prison system regarding easier access to NewsInside, Bartley aspires to find other means for the readers to engage with the publication. While tablets inside of prisons and jails make it easy for NewsInside distribution, some big-name tablet companies charge too much for the $.10/hr average rate that prisoners receive. Bartley prefers to figure out creative ways to make this access possible. Such as instead of charging, people earn their entertainment.
Here’s What Else You Should Know
- Supplement a print publication with a television program: Forty percent of the incarcerated population are functionally literate. This was a problem for NewsInside since it is a print publication. As a result, they created a video news program titled, Inside Story, which is released on YouTube.
- What’s next for NewsInside?: Exploring new ways to be interactive with readers. The latest issue has a crossword puzzle to engage correctional officers, as well as motivate them to read the stories. In addition, ten episodes of InsideStory are on the horizon.
To view published articles, go to https://www.themarshallproject.org/tag/news-inside. For more information on NewsInside contact Lawrence Bartley at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on The Marshall Project and its mission, go to https://www.themarshallproject.org.