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3 ideas for covering America’s booming prison population

The United States is a world leader in incarceration, with more than 2 million people in prisons and jails. At the 2014 IRE Conference Barry Krisberg, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley Law School, discussed a handful of trends for journalists to follow in the coming year. Here are three to keep an eye on:

1. Lawsuits and conditions stemming from the Americans with Disabilities Act

Every correctional facility is subject to the ADA, but officials are still figuring out how to comply with it. Journalists can keep tabs on the resulting lawsuits – cases Krisberg says will be a "slam dunk" – as they make their way through the courts. They can also monitor if and how the ADA improves conditions in prisons. Listen to him explain:

Some examples:

  • A deaf prison inmate in Oregon sued the state Department of Corrections for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide him a sign-language interpreter. Read the story by The Oregonian.
  • California officials have agreed to get thousands of mentally ill inmates out of solitary confinement and provide them special living arrangements. Read more from the Sacramento Bee


2. Compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act

The Justice Department is training people to audit prison systems despite resistance by some state officials. Journalists can watch how the law is implemented in their states. Krisberg explains:

Some examples:


3. A broadening of the Eighth Amendment

Krisberg called the 2011 Brown v. Plata decision “one of the most significant human rights decisions that we’ve seen out of the Supreme Court since Brown v. Board of Education.” Listen to him explain the effect it will have on prison costs and quality of life.

Learn more:


IRE members can listen to the entire discussion, which also includes tips on how to get access to sources behind bars.

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